John Olivares Espinoza

Aching Knees in Palm Springs

One gray Thursday in winter break,

Albert and I plucked patches of grass

From petunia beds wide as swimming pools

Within a condo complex; one-story stucco blocks

For old men who wipe sweat with dollar bills.

We spent our school vacations in shivers:

Raking, trimming, and mowing frosted yards with Dad. 

At the eighth hour of kneeling,

The weight on my knees was too much for me.

For each fistful of grass, I stood up to stretch

And let the cold air sneak under my shirt.

When Dad noticed the weeds slowly filling the can,

He turned to me red-faced and said,

You’re packing down the dirt, kneel on the lawn

And weed the beds from there. I said,

I am at least entitled to some circulation…

I kept the truth from slipping past my chapped lips,

How I didn’t care about dirt and weeds 

From a bourgeoisie’s garden—these few men

I learned about in Sociology class—

Who raked in more hundred-dollar bills

Than I did citrus leaves in a day.

I wanted to tell Dad that these men didn’t care

If Mexicans spent ten hours—or even a lifetime,

Weeding out the same bed the following week.

To only tell him about the hours I felt wasted,

When we could’ve rested our sore backs on a bed

And drowned in the lake of a much deserved sleep,

Or sailed through Tierra del Fuego, us standing

On the deck and never bowing, not even to the sun.

Or how he could have learned to read,

And I would finally show him a poem I wrote. 

But I didn’t. Because I knew what he would say—

It’s the only way to put you through school—this oily sweat.

I kept my tongue hidden behind my teeth,

And watched my brother hunched over, tossing weeds

And years inside a green plastic can without a word.




“Aching Knees in Palm Springs”  first appeared in Rattle, Vol. 5 issue 12, winter 1999.