Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Strawberry Field


After Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

1. My husband, my thirty-four month old, and I have driven sixty miles to pick strawberries at an organic strawberry farm. It is the sixth week of Trump’s zero tolerance policy, in which children are ripped from their parents at the southern border of the United States.

2. It is the sixteenth day of June. At noon, it is five degrees hotter than the average high temperature for this day. Three times I have slathered sunscreen on my fair-skinned child, extra on the back of his neck for the activity of picking strawberries under an above-average hot sun.

3. “We have to find the strawberries,” I say, to coach him on the activity and also to make it seem fun. We are a class of people who can afford to view agriculture primarily as entertainment with a side of child enrichment. “They are hiding.”

4. He is hot and already a little cranky because we have had to wait on a long, festive line to buy the tickets to enter the field. My son and I separated from my husband to stand on a different line for ice cream. “Keep your phone on,” says my husband. “So I can find you.”

5. In 2017, federal authorities are reported to have lost track of 1,475 immigrant children who arrived unaccompanied by an adult to the US-Mexico border.

6. Strawberries are grown in every state of the United States. California is the largest producer of strawberries in the world and grows 91% of the US crop.

7. New York, where we are currently sweating and will be sunburned in less than two hours, is an “also-ran” at sixth or seventh place. Correction, I am the only one who will be sunburned as the sole family member blessed with significant melanin, and the only one arrogant enough not to apply sunscreen.

8. Strawberry plants grow low to the ground, the fruit hidden under relatively large trifoliate leaves. Machines are not efficient for harvest as fruits ripen on the same stalk at different intervals.

9. To pick a strawberry, one must crouch.

10. In Southern California, a good strawberry picker can earn $18.75 an hour or $150 a day. Despite this rate, nearly double the current minimum wage, the workers willing to spend eight hours in a sun-baked crouch looking for tiny red globules of sweetness are not American. They are migrant workers from Mexico. Undocumented.

11. As we enter the strawberry rows, I overhear a woman say to her family, “Now I get why they charge so much at the store. It isn’t easy.” At the check-out station, a man grumbles that he is being charged six dollars a pound when he did all the work. He demands his strawberries be weighed without the box.

12. In six weeks, two thousand children have been separated from their parents for crossing the Southwestern US border. Many of these families sought asylum from systemic or domestic violence. Some of these children are nursing infants, as young as eight months old.

13. In thirty-four months, the number of nights I have slept away from my child is two.


Photographs provided courtesy of author.

Yoojin Grace Wuertz was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States at age six. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in fiction from New York University. Everything Belongs to Us is her debut novel, which was selected as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and included on Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction of 2017. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, the Times Literary Supplement, and The Massachusetts Review, among other publications. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and son. More from this author →