Fresno’s Cherry Auction, 1979 and now
by Patrick Fontes

Windows rolled down smudge-marked greasy
little fingers writing inscriptions
backseat in Tata’s 62 Nova rattled
monster-like engine speaking in tongues
as a Valley Sierra sunrise awakened
floral-scented air danced meringue in my nose
fresh life across fields in all directions
moved to nature’s rhythm unlike us
closed eyes to wind hair blown massaged
dawn-kissed taste of dew in my open mouth
on rich Valley mud baptized by manure
brisk against my face I breathed deep savored
soul San Joaquin blessings erased boyhood sins
for a moment angelic free flying I spied
Tata’s hangover bloodshot eyes rearview mirror smiling
at me through cigarette clouds and matchstick sulfur
down Cherry Avenue at 630 am sunray sanctified

An avocado-faced old black man hawked
fresh honeydew golden-fleshed presents
yelling as we passed his stall juice dripped
from a rusted paring knife as he slurped
between words from a paint-worn tailgate
of a 1942 Dodge pickup
tender smiled white-haired overalls
crow’s-feet carved into flint face
his unkempt Saint Bernard rope-tied drooled
to a loose bumper held fast by twine
he whittled a crucifix when silent
paying close attention to Christ’s wounds
while his wife hummed Amazing Grace as I passed
wiping early morning sand from my eyes

Hmong refugees grew giant strawberries
as big as my dirty fists succulent
in bright-colored Christmas ethnic dress
gnome-like they seemed from another world
they came from maybe a secret garden
where fruit grew monstrous on fairy dust
stoic they stared at us unblinking
twenty-five cents later red magic
coated my tongue as foreign words flowed
down my cheeks dripping onto my shirt
stained and sticky I didn’t notice
I ran my forearm across my face
devouring five luscious berries more

Pocket full of sugar coated quarters
strolled aisles fine dust floating midair
“Wait for me Mijito!” Nana begged
searching each stall for treasured junk
washboard corduroy chubby pants rubbed
pantalone accordions accompanied
screeching Jalisco mariachi horns
chimichangas sizzled in greasy pans
mixed with an old amplifier’s cackle
from the Okie auctioneer shouting
rapid-fire English kind of words
with a Fresno County Southern twang

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I was a child my grandparents often took me to a country flea-market and auction right outside the city, still within the city limits. I think the auction really sums up Fresno, its people, the ag-based culture and economy and the various ethnicities that have come to live here. The auction is still there and has become an icon for Fresno.

IMAGE: “Old pick-up overlooking country road, hardened, stoic, like the area’s folk — near Highway 41 on the way to Yosemite, Fresno County” by Patrick Fontes.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick Fontes grew up in working class Chicano, Fresno, California. During the Mexican Revolution Patrick’s great-grandfather, Jesus Luna, a Yaqui, immigrated from Chihuahua to Central California. In 1920 Jesus built a Chihuahua-style adobe house in Fresno. Nearly one hundred years later it is still the center of Patrick’s cherished Mexican identity. Other influences include 1980s hardcore punk rock, Mexican folk Catholicism, and photography. Currently Patrick is a PhD candidate in history at Stanford University. His research involves Mexico-USA transnational history, Latin American religion, and the Criminalization of Chicano culture. Patrick’s poetry has appeared in The Más Tequila Review, the Acentos Review, The James Franco Review, as well the online poetry site La Bloga.