Surrounded by Peach Trees, President Clinton Speaks to My Fourth Grade Class [2020 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize Featured Finalist]

Back to School Day and my sister has been dead one year, ten months. This is how you get to the other side. We’ve been moving into a new world. When pressed against 

your palm, the flesh of a good peach renders a slight give. This is how to use your hands as measure. By the time you are grown I hope no one will be afraid of __________. 

A clingstone pit is a father that fits inside my fist. Before I take a bite, my father scrubs clean the pesticides from my first peach. Orchard is another word for son. 

This is how to open every piece of fruit: desperately. In my father’s trunk, shears and canvas sack with leather straps. I’m glad to be in the number-one agricultural region.

I wait to shake the president’s hand, hand-picked to meet him because my sister is dead. This is how to bury a bone. Only white peaches are plucked by gloved hands. This is how 

you learn to handle other people’s things. Some of the things you do, they’re just not going to work out. In my father’s trunk, dust and rot. At the end of every ladder: a sun. A peach 

tree’s average lifespan is twelve years, five more than my sister’s. Every tree can begin in a jar if you soak the seed overnight. Every sister was once a seed. A stranger teaches me the proper 

way to shake a hand, as if no one else had bothered. This is how to swallow a bullet. I take his hand, looking into every eye. On the edge of campus, acres of trees and fathers. I hope you 

won’t have to worry about a world in which you and your family could be destroyed by __________. This is how to keep fear away: watch from behind a fence. In my father’s trunk, 

every fence he’s ever loved. I really believe that you will live in the best period in American history. Things my father could hear from the trees that day: helicopter blades and  

blades against branches, boom of speakers and boom of fruit falling into buckets. This is how you forget an entire country: remind yourself, a freestone pit never clings to the flesh it bears. 


Juan Luis Guzmán, a poet, professor, and literary/performing arts organizer, earned an MFA in creative writing from California State University, Fresno. With fellowships from Macondo Writers Workshop and CantoMundo, his work has appeared in Huizache, PANK, and The Rumpus, among other journals, as well as the Letras Latinas Blog and Poet’s Quarterly. He is the vice chairman of the Selma Arts Council and served as executive director of LitHop, Fresno’s literary festival, from 2017 to 2019. The former co-director for CantoMundo, Guzmán is a professor of English at Fresno City College.