Secret Harvest

By Joseph Hesch

They hide their faces
like pickpockets,
pulling ruby and garnet
from the Macs’ green folds and
from the secret places of Northern Spies.
Black and brown folks, shivering
in a northland that knows mostly white,
from the bosses’ faces,
to its mountaintops, 
to its Aprils.
They work hard, paid maybe enough 
to support their families and a life 
that sends them to places that 
will never be their home.
That’s why they hide their faces,
so they won’t have to go Home.
But Federales with badges and
cameras are always trying to
send them back.
Back to El Salvador,
to Jamaica, 
or to Mexico.
After they climb from the ladders
for the last time this season, and
gently unload their treasures into
great grey boxes that dot the orchard,
all the pickers want is to trade
the red gems for some green to travel
to Louisiana for the rice,
to Florida for the celery, or
to the grocer’s for their kids.

Autumn is, give-or-take, a couple of days away. This time always puts me in mind of my days in the North Country of New York. Apple country. It also reminds me of a story from when I was working as a baby reporter. I was sent to do a simple apple harvest piece at an orchard near Plattsburgh. There were quiet people all over the place, most of whom would never make eye contact with me. After talking to the owner of the place, I stepped away a bit and pulled my camera out to take a few “atmosphere” shots to illustrate the story.

“No photos,” the Boss said. “Put that camera away.”

“But I’m just taking a couple of shots for the story. It’s such a bucolic scene and…”

“No photos, I said.” The Boss sounded pretty stern, but I tried igmoring him and looked through my viewfinder, composing what I thought would be my only shot.

I felt his hand on my shoulder and when I turned, he put his hands on his hips, pulling the front of his jacket open and revealing a revolver attached to his belt.

“No photos, yes sir,” I said. And hauled out of there back to Plattsburgh.

When I got to the office, my boss explained the fellow at the orchard was protecting himself and his workforce, which was comprised of more than a few “illegals.”

Like I said, I always remember this story when the first batch of apples enters the house. You don’t think he really would have shot me, do you?

“Secret Harvest” is my post for today’s dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night, which I had the priviledge to host last week. Check it out and enjoy some of the fruits of a world-wide array of special poets.

24 thoughts on “Secret Harvest

  1. Now this story is very familiar… about exploited families in a South American country (can't remember which) that represents one of the ultimate stories of human exploitation… whatever, it tells the story very well, Joe. A poet who is also a story teller is a rarer commodity, you should know that.

  2. dang…nice write joe…when we lived in FL we would get the trucks rolling in to pick the strawberries…then they would leave and you rbing their life and plight alive…sad…great write though…

  3. we don't get the same kind of immigrants but more European ones with good domestic skills, on the whole they work very hard and charge a fraction of native tradesmen which causes resentment ..personally I think if people want to work and support themselves that's a good thing !…thought your poem reflected a worldwide problem and beautifully ..thank you x

  4. Gently told, Joe…a lovely, well written poem. It's a difficult question, the immigrant problem…one not easy to solve. But it's true they can be exploited…here in the UK, there was an outcry when a group of Chinese were swept out to sea whilst cockle picking off Morcambe Bay. Nobody had a clue who they were or how to contact their next of kin because they were 'illegal'. It's very sad. Your story is wild! I wonder what he would have done had you continued to try & take pictures? Gosh…glad you decided not to!! Thanks, Joe for this thought provoking poem 🙂

  5. I thought Florida was for tomatoes…I know a load of these Peeps. All loaded on a truck every morning. A few live on my street (team leaders?) But what's the solution…please?When some come back home (Naples) they usually bring some of what they've picked. Mmmmm, GOOD!

  6. So sad, Joe. We are all the same. If some of us don't belong, then none of us do. I wish everything didn't have to be so divisive. Thanks for writing another perfect piece.

  7. Joe, I have a great deal of experience working with independent contractors, many of which would hire daily help. The majority of this help would be polite, but would hide within the vans until work had to be done, always speaking softly to one another in their natural tongue. While I was fluent, I spoke enough Spanish to get by, a brief conversation here and there. And I remember how frightened one of these IC's got, taking me off to the side, pleading for me not to report them to INS. Up until that point I only knew his helpers were foreigners, not illegals. The experience opened my eyes, and I began to see it everywhere. I didn't report him, it wasn't my place, he was an IC, and I held true to the independent part of the Contracted relationship. I think you did a great job here, describing the intricacies of many of these people, who are working hard, many of which living cramped up in a single room with numbers of others, each sending their money back to their homes- You did a great job here, really brought back memories and for those not having the personal experience of such, I think you certainly penned the piece in a way that will not only make one think, but will open their eyes as well. Great write here and Happy Open Link Night, thanks for the read.

  8. What a simply stunning poem. Wow! That last line is a beautiful little heartbreak. I hope they all find peace and more work.I am from Nova Scotia where Macs are a plenty, and are my absolute fave apple.

  9. A particularly timely poem. The Obama administration has expelled a record number of "illegals." These are people so poor that they see their exploitation as an opportunity to earn money to send back home. I suspect the harvesting of many crops is suffering from our obsession over closing our borders.

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