Mary Ellen Sanger





 The sky pearls to morning and she unfurls from her sarapeto light the fire.

 Warmth tendrils into the chill around her hearth.

 With the first spit of sun, she heats black coffee and shapes fresh tortillas,

 wiping her hands on a green plaid apron fringed with eyelet.

 Venus reflects in the water tub as she scrubs her face.

 She prods her son and her daughter to awaken.

 They walk far to their cornfield struggling skyward,

 cradled in a cupped palm between mountains.

 She digs, digs and pulls up by deep roots the weeds that creep between rows of green stalks.

 She knows their resistance, and lays them gently in a swelling heap.

 She sorts out the delicate verdolagas for dinner.

 With the sun at eye level, in the wrinkled shade of a ceiba,

 she gives her daughter water from a gourd.

 She mounds red earth round her plants, and with a frayed blue rebozo

 wipes sweat and dust from her neck.

 At noon they rest and eat tortillas and hard-cooked eggs. Her children nap.

 Back in the field, toes sunk into the earth, her son tugs her woolen skirt,

 points to the bulk of mountains surrounding them.

 The shadows are still there, a curling gloom of serpents around the base of pines.

 She looks again and they are gone.

 You only see bad luck from the corner of your eye.

 And suddenly they are in her field, a menace of black boots in uniforms the rank color of leaf-mold.

 Their guns point toward darkening clouds.

 They are many. Too many. Maybe ten. Maybe twelve.

 She asks if they would help clear her field. They are younger than she by ten.

 Thunder repeats in the air sharp with a promise of rain.

 The sun resists falling.

 She lays one earth-brown hand gently on a young soldier's arm.

 She says "Go home. We are not the problem."

 Her words buzz like wasps, and he pushes her, not gently, with the point of his rifle.

 The sun resists falling.

 Her daughter cries out. She picks thumb-sized flowers from the discarded weeds,

 offers a fist of petals to the steel-eyed soldier.

 Her eyes are like the lagunita where he swam as a child.

 He orders them to hush. He orders them to turn. The sun resists falling.

 He orders them to close their eyes. He orders them to kneel. The sun resists falling.

 Thunder like an avalanche, filling their ears, then nothing.

 The men slither up to the shelter of pines.


 The family is motionless.

 There is still water in their gourds.

 A crow mourns in the distance.

 Their skin muddies in the rain-softened earth.


 The sun sinks weary, weary into the breast of the mountain.

 Her children run ahead, carrying a morral with supper greens.

 She follows them closely, the corner of one eye trained on bad luck.

 Some days, resistance is as simple as a fistful of weeds. Others, it will not be.



 (Originally posted September 8, 2009)


 To contact Mary Ellen Sanger send an email to