John Olivares Espinoza

Contemporary American Hunger

We were the newest broke Mexicans to settle in Indio,

Mom having quit her job at school

To rest her neck, tense from hovering

Like a desk lamp over the Special-Ed kids.

Albert and I, barely hip-high

To our mother, unaware of our budget,

Salivated as we thought about the dry buns,

The Grade B patties of Argentine beef at McDonald’s—

For what our TV eyes believed was the best lunch in town.


At McD’s, we paid for two cheeseburgers.

Mom pulled out her blue purse, laid out

A buck thirty-eight—

Two dull quarters,

Six dimes, five nickels,

And three parking lot pennies.

The cashier’s forefinger counted

The change as Mom held up the line,

While the regulars tapped

Their feet behind her. She stood red-faced,

For these burgers slid towards her

On a bright plastic tray.


Bun by bun, Mom bulldozed

With a plastic knife the spread of ketchup,

Mustard and chopped onion,

Before slicing the burgers to give each of her sons a half.

Satisfied, we ventured through a rainbow

Of tubes and balls with the other kids,

Their stomachs full of Big Macs or Happy Meals.

But we were happy too—better than staying

At home on a Saturday

Eating potato tacos after our yard chores.

Did Mom sit there and watch us play?

I only remember her fingers neatly wrapping

The remaining half in the greasy red and yellow paper,

Then tucking the lump away in her purse, sustenance for later.




“Contemporary American Hunger”  first appeared in The U.S. Latino Review, Vol. 1, issue 2, 2000.