Online Poems

for Craig White's Literature Courses

La Tere Smelled of Fish

by Luis Alberto Urrea


Day shift’s closing bells

stilled conveyer belts: La Tere

and the other women

stepped away from eighteen-

year-old bald spots worn           5

into the factory floor,


the two million razor-toothed lids

a day stilled in their sure flight

above hungry cans—a constellation

of tin moons:                             10



sluiced blood

from rubber legs,

propped long knives

in wooden slots, hung              15

slick aprons limp

as strangled crows

beside them:


then the buses home, white

nurse-dresses pink at the hem      20

with blood, black

hair oiled dull and caught

tight to heads with fishnet,

scent of albacore, yellowtail, strong

as illness all around them—                 25

they divided in the Four Directions:

San Ysidro, Chula Vista,

National City, Barrio Logan:


La Tere came home and picked

opal scales                                      30

from her calves

from her legs

from her shoes:


her back bent down

and couldn’t come up,                     35

shoulderblades dead fins

from the canning angle

of her days.


One eye sliding loose

and nobody knew why.                    40

she went to bed at eight

and heard the seashore roar

of silver machines.


Up at four, silent

in the silent rooms, three                 45

tortillas with butter, a little tuna:

then she went alone

into the fish-belly dawn,

and when one day she didn’t come back

from Starkist, they sealed her house        50

like a can.


That was the summer of ’59,

the summer of ’65,

the summer of ’71.

That was the summer of her life.          55