A Lesson from my Father about Electricity

When I wait 
for my father, the stars 

disappear. Only bats 
dart and flutter, 

hungry for the hum 
of mosquitos, thick 

as honey. Their bright 
sting lingers and jumps

like electricity can.
It’s looking for a body.

He didn’t say  
how production
stopped when the volt
distribution panel was
cleaned of calf and hip.
No matter how hot

the summer was, my father
said it was nothing compared
to coke, spelled coal. The way it
penetrated his skin like the breathlessness of asphalt
and the charcoal briquettes he set fire to—

the sizzle and curl of chicken skin
rubbed with paprika, salt, and black pepper.
The acrid spray of vinegar when turned and sealed 
under lid. I stood next to the heat, 
a sticky sheen of smoke,
and I wanted to eat.


Copyright © 2023 by Monica Rico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 13, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“As a child, I was taught not to complain about much—whenever I would, my father would pull me aside to tell me how much worse my situation could be. Many of these stories were of his life at the plant. Saginaw, Michigan, in the sixties was a racist city. My father was one of the first Mexican American electricians at General Motors. He had to endure years of tedious, back-breaking labor, and fought every step of the way to be allowed the chance to become a skilled tradesman. I was fascinated and frightened by what my father did, and I knew the importance of how much work had to be done to put food on the table.”
—Monica Rico