Rice Paddies of NYC

Leo Farley, Veteran 

Leo Farley, Veteran 

Three Asian ladies
with bent and twisted frames
youth long gone
gathering bottles and cans
from the streets of NYC,
a scene that transports me
back in time
to the tangled maze of rivers and
vast rice paddies along the delta.

Memory in flight,
youth instantly restored.
Myself in faded green fatigues.
The ladies in their signature "ao dais", 
elegant, body-hugging,
sweeping tunics
with long sleeves,
worn gracefully
over loose flowing trousers.

I watch them work. 
They work, watching me, 
gathering rice in the paddies
untroubled by my gaze, 
my presence in their land.
Curiosity about one another
an exchange of smiles,
no outward signs of animosity
exist between us.

The rice is yellow in the sunshine
and begins to drop,
guided by the
skillful hands of the ladies harvesting
with their simple hand tools.
Sickles or hand-held knives, 
collecting the crop with their expert
reaping and cutting.

A fire engine roaring by
the blare of siren and horn
bring me back from
my unsolicited trip to the past.

We are no longer who we were.
Myself, now in civilian attire.
The ladies, now in ill-fitting western garb.
The "Non La" palm leaf conical hats, 
a signature symbol of their dress
the only lasting reminder,
the catalyst for my visit,
to a time long passed.

The Non La’s now
shade plastic focused eyes as
their brown hands sift through
piles of trash for this new cash crop,
castaways from our disposable lifestyles.
I watch them move through
fields of park benches and trash cans.
Their wobbly-wheeled carts
collect this somber city harvest. 
Eerily similar to my observation
watching the harvester’s years ago
as they moved through rows of paddies
with the same grit and perseverance.

They leave no bag untouched,
every bottle, every can, emptied, 
tossed into the cart.
This day's harvest a nickel at a time, 
inedible, but a means to subsist
just the same.