The Gleaners, by Jessica Manack
Take pity: the heft of our shadows misleads. While your rosy wife kneads the dough, take pity on we who go hands sagging and backs sagging and sacks sagging into the fields, scavenging for edible matter, blowing dirt grains from meal.
We go after the thresher, comb the remains with soft fingernails, and behind us trail the shadows flat as maps along the used-up ground. We glean, we lean in when the farmhands walk by, we die but no one ever knows it, we never show it when we find the piece we seek.
We sift, feigning occupation. We’re really listening in, with eyes that don’t sleep and ears that reap more than these hands ever do. If not for listening to you, we’d never know that our kneeling and kneeling, our bending and rising, arms flicking in and out, was not waltzing.
If not for the stories of status you drop us, we wouldn’t know we weren’t queens. You talk around us like we can’t put pieces together, dumb as spent soil when the boss walks by, as if our existence wasn’t picking up crumbs. As if our heads were hidden, as if these cloth bonnets protected us from any element.
We like the dancing stories best. We like to dance, and we would if we weren’t so weary, if we didn’t have to carry these bags. We, too, would talk of romance if our hands weren’t callused, if our faces weren’t burnt so, if our feet didn’t drag so. Only vicariously do we learn all we will ever know.
We hoard money we can never spend, confessions clutched in our rake-hands with the precious grain. We have come to depend on this currency. It is necessary, it comes naturally. It is alimentary.
Take pity on we who don’t get to choose, who don’t know if it’s worse that we’re so bones, so worked, poor and too proud to borrow, or that we bear this curse of always having just enough gritty bread to make it to tomorrow.
Jessica Manack holds degrees from Hollins University and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her writing has recently appeared in Maudlin House, Still: the Journal and Litro Magazine. She is a recipient of a 2022 Curious Creators Grant. Keep up with her work at http://www.jessicamanack.com
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