Lament for the Nopales

by David Dominguez


The equipment pushed through before dawn.

We watched from across the street.

We watched how the old rusted

chainlink was wrenched free,

went down, and was rolled into spools.

We watched how the bulldozer

crept up the curb and lowered its teeth

into the tired ground until

the roots sighed for a moment

and then popped and snapped

like the dried-out bones of the dead.

We watched how the orchard

fell flat like a victory without hope

and then rose in the dust that billowed

under the white street lamp still

glowing brightly at this hour.

We watched the flatbed pick-ups roll in

and the port-a-potties that were

unloaded and put where the shade would be.

We watched the dumpsters

fill-up quick, and we watched the crane,

its black boom tall against the sunrise,

stand silent beside the trailer trucks

and the gray steal beams that came in on trains.

We saw the concrete mixers pour cement

across the dried up dirt of Fresno,

and we watched the heavy slab take shape

where the pencas orchard once was

These were the days we hungered for more than memory:

these were the days we longed for the orchard

the last spot of industrial Fresno

where the dust was the dust of earth which would

settle over our brow, mix with sweat,

and leave on our handkerchiefs swipes the color of clay.

Those days, when after work we sat on milk cans

in a circle of quiet shade and good conversation

at the outer edge of the orchard to peel

the skin and thorns with a quick pocket-knife blade

until all that was left was the bright green meat of the nopales.

© 2000 El Andar Magazine