Back to All Stories

Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta

New York, NY, United States


"For "Poppy Fire Harvest," I wanted to follow the journey of the poppy – from its Mediterranean birthplace to how its processed and refined form has come to be part of our lives – in order to understand the larger context of the problem we have here in the United States. After reading information gathered by NJTV and The Center for Investigative Reporting, attending NJTV's community forum at the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, and reading about a dozen other sources, it became clear to me that this is a global issue that is economic and we must address that aspect if we want to see any real change right here at home. "Birth" is a much more personal take on addiction. I read so much material on heroin and opioid addiction, but I was in denial of how addiction touched my own family. This project allowed me to break through that denial. I knew I had to face my own experience and how addiction has affected my own family and me. What was exciting for me was looking back and acknowledging one way we were able to keep moving forward, with literal baby steps." - Grisel Acosta


Poppy Fire Harvest
by Grisel Acosta

llego la záfra,
en el ingenio
estan moliendo
la adormideras
El sentimiento de conquistar…

the poppy originates in Europe
tall, pink, red, reaching alien
stalk, grabbing new soil, forced into
the crust of India, China, Mexico, Afghanistan

indeed, the drug counselor tells me,
“First it came from China,
now Mexico”—he fails history,
omitting the drug’s Mediterranean womb

upset because they needed Chinese silk and tea,
yet China needed nothing from G.B.,
the British tried to force an opium economy
down the throat of 19th century China

New Jersey State Police Captain Juan Colon says
the current U.S. drug epidemic is economically
driven—overseas cultivation, pharmaceutical
opioid companies, small labs all make money

we smear green compost of Purdue, Abbot,
Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, Novartis, Covidien, Watson,
Endo, on Earth, over poppy seed, till and turn,
wet the ground with junkie slobber

we wage a war on what we sow while vets weep into VA blankets
“In the mid ‘80s, Afghanistan produced 20% of the world’s opium.
That number increased to over 80% after U.S. intervention.”
the U.S. had a similar effect on cocaine production in Colombia

my brother is an addict, but if my family
had stayed in Colombia, he wouldn’t have been
less than 1% of Colombians use cocaine
16% of adults in the U.S. have used cocaine at some point in their lives

Mexicans don’t use the heroin they make, either
these treasures we reap are your manifested destiny
we are your garden of eden, and your farmers, too
our hands will shoo away hungry beetles, more for you

see the crimson petals open up to you from the dirt
buried life, reaching toward sol
pods burst, ready to kiss your pain,
sleep your wounds into illusion and suburban maze madness

we spray your fields as you spray us with Monsanto
cancer…the bulbs carry grey seeds, nuclei
you nibble with lattes: caffeine, pesticides, workaholism,
hierarchy—is there no end to your addictions?

the biggest one is in Afghanistan
there are 467,000 heroin addicts in the U.S.
there are 1.5 million addicts in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has one-tenth the total population of the U.S.
we cut the stems,

grind bone and marrow into paste
form bricks we cradle into stacks, like brown bodies,
like the rows of addicted Afghan children in treatment
beds, as young as four, the report says
we place our poppy harvest into a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy,

also carrying rice and irrigation pipes
it makes several stops around the globe
the brown body bricks are transferred to a smaller craft,
end up in a two-bedroom flat in Camden, NJ,
where a twitchy guy in a Walking Dead shirt sits in the dark,

lighted only by the TV, which keeps repeating
Make America Great Again—our gold,
silver, copper, bananas, coconuts,
pineapples, Afghan jewels sold on Etsy are
sucked into your mouths like blood-dripped
open veins into a needle, syringe, blood
banks of America, resources increasing
your value on the stock exchange,
a theft diminishing us to 3rd world mythology
Did you not think your own children would suckle on this harvest of death?

Oh, mother, let us kill this crop before more
bodies wither under pin and flame
set fire to it with me
I know the flowers seem enchanting, but they turn
all who touch into apparitions of agony


Translation of first stanza: (which is sung to the melody of La Sonora Matancera’s Zafra, originally about the sugar harvest; I am well aware poppies are not refined like sugar, but I am making a metaphorical connection between the harvests, which I believe are both harvests of empire):

The harvest has arrived
In the refinery they are grinding poppies
Oh, the sentiment of conquest


by Grisel Acosta
when I was young
I was haunted by a long room
a light wood bar on one side
rows of windows on the other
yellow streetlight shining through
dancers in the skinny space in between, then

thousands of bullets smashing
breaking glass
broken bone skin pulverized
blood pooling, shredded limbs everywhere
we are all down, dead, or paralyzed, then

we all stand up
keep dancing, wounded
our feet are stuck to the wet, mucky floor
we still move despite the slime that pulls
as if to the Earth’s core, heavy, mad, and red

this dream is what it was like
living with an addict
pulled down into his TV fuzz eyes and stolen car psyche
dead Mami worked on spreadsheets
dead Papi spoke at theology conferences
I studied trigonometry dead
we lived and died for my brother Lou, and died again dead, then

Elizabeth was born
my baby niece who came out the womb laughing
took to toddling around fast
she followed Papi to the yard
she followed Papi to the kitchen
she followed Papi to his office,
even to his hallowed lectern on Sunday, crawled
and wiggled, made the most serious audiences giggle
she met my family low on the floor
reminded us that if we were to teach her to rise and walk
we had to be stronger than gravity

The call for poems portion of NJ PBS's Addiction Crisis initiative is made possible by a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

Each poetry submission in this site, and any statement or opinion expressed therein, is the work of its author, and does not reflect the views or opinions of NJ PBS. Some material may contain graphic content.