Cathy Song’s poem “The Pineapple Fields” first appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review in 1996.
Father rescued us from the pineapple fields.
We were certain to be lost in the pineapple fields.
We were wayward, barefoot, and undisciplined in the pineapple fields.
Hunters of mongoose, we wore rags, were red dirt streaked
like savages in the pineapple fields.
He saved us from living and dying in the pineapple fields.
The pineapple fields was a place to flee from,
a place plagued with black feathers,
blood of the rooster spray painted like graffiti
across chickencoop houses fenced by a junkyard of cars,
cannibalized for parts.
Scrawny kids with ukus lived in the pineapple fields,
kids who by age six had as many gold
teeth as pool hall uncles down on Hotel Street,
teeth gone bad by way of termites like their untended houses,
all of them
rotten to the core.
The day we left the pineapple fields
Violet, Martha, and Lorraine stood in the driveway
of our mildew-infested house to wave goodbye.
They gathered communal tears
that stung like wedding rice.
They bid us farewell.
We left the pineapple fields for the city,
a haole neighborhood of swimming pools
and Filipino gardeners silently trimming
a legacy of Saturday morning lawns.
No wonder Mother cried.
How would she ever keep up?
No more morning coffee brewing for talks at Violet’s,
no more the humming of Lorraine’s sewing machine
whipping up creamy ballgowns for our dolls,
no more Mr. Suzuki’s shakuhachi sighing through the mock-orange hedge.
Don’t act like you just came from the pineapple fields
meant we couldn’t wear anything purple,
couldn’t loop strings of Christmas lights
like fishnets around picture windows all year long,
couldn’t get too dark in the summer,
couldn’t yell “Mommy! Telephone!” at the top of our lungs,
couldn’t slap our thighs and howl with unbecoming laughter,
couldn’t beg Mommy for candy at the pharmacy,
couldn’t pour shoyu on our rice, ketsup on our eggs,
couldn’t think Flamingo’s Chuck Wagon the greatest place to eat anymore.
Don’t talk like you came from the pineapple fields
meant we couldn’t talk with our mouths
full of broken sentences,
couldn’t shovel “yuh?” like food heaped onto spoons.
Don’t talk like you just came from the pineapple fields
meant we had to speak proper English.
We remained silent instead,
our tongues harnessed by the foreign shoelaces of syntax restrictive
as the new shoes Father brought home for us to wear.