Mother Picking Produce

Nov 2, 2018

Today’s poem is “Mother Picking Produce” by Richard Blanco. Richard is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Looking for the Gulf Motel and a memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. Richard read his poem “One Today” at President Obama’s second inauguration.

He writes, “I was sort of spying on my mother as she went about her business at a small Cuban bodega in Miami, and remembered William Carlos Williams' 'The Red Wheelbarrow,' probably the most famous 'little poem' in American literature. As in he did in that poem, I wanted to draw out the extraordinary meaning held in the seemingly most ordinary moments we witness in our lives, be it the simple beauty of a red wheelbarrow, or, in this case, my mother picking out produce.”

Mother Picking Produce
by Richard Blanco

She scratches the oranges then smells the peel,
presses an avocado just enough to judge its ripeness,
polishes the Macintoshes searching for bruises.

She selects with hands that have thickened, fingers
that have swollen with history around the white gold
of a wedding ring she now wears as a widow.

Unlike the archived photos of young, slender digits
captive around black and white orange blossoms,
her spotted hands now reaching into the colors.

I see all the folklore of her childhood, the fields,
the fruit she once picked from the very tree,
the wiry roots she pulled out of the very ground.

And now, among the collapsed boxes of yuca,
through crumbling pyramids of golden mangos,
she moves with the same instinct and skill.

This is how she survives death and her son,
on those humble duties that will never change,
on those habits of living which keep a life a life.

She holds red grapes to ask me what I think,
and what I think is this, a new poem about her—
the grapes look like dusty rubies in her hands,

what I say is this:  They look sweet, very sweet.

From City of a Hundred Fires (University of Pittsburgh Press 1998). Copyright © Richard Blanco.