Friday Open Thread ~ "What are you reading?" edition. Volume 4


Today's open thread features the work of my favorite poet.



Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published almost twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His latest collection of poems from Norton is called Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016). Other books of poems include The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006), Alabanza (2003), A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (2000), Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993) and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (1990). His many honors include the 2018 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, an American Book Award, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem of his collection Alabanza, about 9/11, has been widely anthologized and performed. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (1998), was banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona, and has been issued in a new edition by Northwestern University Press. A former tenant lawyer in Greater Boston’s Latino community, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Poet and activist Naomi Ayala interviews poet, translator, essayist and activist Martín Espada.

The deaths of five good friends sparked his book, The Trouble Ball.

"I had to find a way to grapple with the deaths of these dear people, but I didn't want these to be the normal elegies," Espada explains. "The angle was one of epiphany, some discovery by each one of these individuals, as they made their own path through the world," he says. Once he started writing, "a second process kicked in, I began examining my life again, to tell stories of my own life."

Espada reads from the title poem, "The Trouble Ball," about his father, a Puerto Rican immigrant, realizing that brown people weren't allowed to play major league baseball in America in the 1940s.

He also reads "Isabel's Corrido," based on a true story of his marriage to a friend's immigrant sister so she could stay in the country.

How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way

Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over.
—Walt Whitman

I see the dark-skinned bodies falling in the street as their ancestors fell
before the whip and steel, the last blood pooling, the last breath spitting.
I see the immigrant street vendor flashing his wallet to the cops,
shot so many times there are bullet holes in the soles of his feet.
I see the deaf woodcarver and his pocketknife, crossing the street
in front of a cop who yells, then fires. I see the drug raid, the wrong
door kicked in, the minister's heart seizing up. I see the man hawking
a fistful of cigarettes, the cop’s chokehold that makes his wheezing
lungs stop wheezing forever. I am in the crowd, at the window,
kneeling beside the body left on the asphalt for hours, covered in a sheet.

I see the suicides: the conga player handcuffed for drumming on the subway,
hanged in the jail cell with his hands cuffed behind him; the suspect leaking
blood from his chest in the backseat of the squad card; the 300-pound boy
said to stampede bare-handed into the bullets drilling his forehead.

I see the coroner nodding, the words he types in his report burrowing
into the skin like more bullets. I see the government investigations stacking,
words buzzing on the page, then suffocated as bees suffocate in a jar. I see
the next Black man, fleeing as the fugitive slave once fled the slave-catcher,
shot in the back for a broken tail-light. I see the cop handcuff the corpse.

I see the rebels marching, hands upraised before the riot squads,
faces in bandannas against the tear gas, and I walk beside them unseen.
I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn
will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder
how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves
still fled and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke
every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.

Reprinted from Vivas to Those Who Have Failed. Copyright © 2016 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World

For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
where twenty students and six educators lost their
lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
School, December 14, 2012

Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say:
Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins
of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass,
and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born
in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing
of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell
in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War
sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate,
and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke
form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons,
but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells.

Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street,
a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House,
the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence.
Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say:
Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells.
Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say:
Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells.
Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep
in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried.
Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language
of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation
from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds.

Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest,
heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.

From Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of the author and Beacon Press.

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the booming ice storm of glass from the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan to Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.
From Alabanza by Martín Espada. Copyright © 2003 by Martín Espada. Used by permission of W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

9 users have voted.


Lookout's picture

Thanks for the poetry. I wasn't familiar with Martín Espada.

We had an inch of rain in about 30 min yesterday. I'm going the have to drop the mower and put on the box scrape on the tractor to touch up the new gravel on our road. Only a few places with wash, but an ounce of prevention...

Always something. Nice to have the chores to keep me occupied really.

Well, you all take care in these bizarre times.

8 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I have a nephew we call philly, and in addition, we have three Philip's in the family, lol. I know yours stands for the place, but it always makes me think of my grandfather, whose name started it all.

Thanks for the poetry. I, too, was not familiar with him. That paper at the top reminds me of some of my workshopeed poems, the comments trying to steer me in a better direction.

We got 3.5 inches of rain last week in an overnight rain. We went from desert brown to mountain green n a week. MrRA is busy mowing, too.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone! Pleasantry

6 users have voted.

"When will our conscience's grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" Eleanor Roosevelt

"The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." Socrates (469-399 BC)

I did not know of Martin Espada either, thank you for the introduction.
This is hard hitting poetry, snaps you right up, and pisses you off all over again for the nteenth time at the insanity we have constructed.

8 users have voted.

by Bill Moyers is beautiful.

I also appreciate Espada citing Blake before his reading of The angels of bread

What is now proved was once only imagined

4 users have voted.
enhydra lutris's picture

liking what I'm reading.

be well and have a good one.

5 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Granma's picture

It is interesting that he went from being a lawyer to teaching English.

We got a little bit of rain yesterday, just enough to get everything wet, not enough to make any puddles. It cooled us down though. And for now, we'll stay cooler. It's a relief after a string of very hot days.

Things are only partly open here, but once again, there is a lot of traffic on the streets and highways. It continually surprises me. I can't think where everyone is going. Our schools will be online only when the school year starts. The high schools have announced that fall sports, including football will not start until March.

I am glad we are working to keep children as safe as we can. But I feel for children who are missing out on so many things. Some of them are so excited to be able learn to play a musical instrument or to play school sports. Many of them love to see friends again in the fall and talk about what they over the summer. More important are the children who have no access to the online schooling because they have no means of connecting to it. Even the young ones know they are being cheated and that it is because they are poor.

4 users have voted.

bibi making enemies

Last Saturday, a rally in Jerusalem drew more than 10,000 protesters, with thousands more protesting elsewhere in the country, demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation.

This was just the latest in a series of weekly demonstrations which have rocked Israel for months, drawing a growing number of people who are angry with the government's handling of a second wave of COVID-19 infections and the economic impact of the pandemic.

Political dissatisfaction is at the heart of these protests.
...Both Netanyahu and ministers from his right-wing Likud party have labeled the demonstrations as "Leftist protests," and called their participants "anarchists." This view is shared by some in the Israeli public, but many — including the protesters themselves — beg to differ.

5 users have voted.
usefewersyllables's picture

Yet another reader here who was not familiar with the poet or his work.

I suppose that there's an implicit comment in here that would usually be attributed to come sort of conflict between brows, either high or low. However, in my case, that can no longer be said to apply: I am now browless, as a result of continuously beating my head against the wall for so long that my brow (such as it was) has been ground off smooth... (;-)

I just finished rereading my dog-eared old copy of Hunter S. Thompson's brilliant "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72". It was out of print for a long time, but is now available again. On the off-chance that any reader here hasn't had the pleasure, consider going out and finding a copy- it is absolutely worth it. His words always flow like fine wine (perhaps with a little mescaline dissolved in it).

I've said it before- the words that describe what is going on today may not be the exact same words that were used in 1972, but they sure do rhyme.

But what about next time? Who is going to explain in 1976 that all the people who felt they got burned in '72 should "try again" for another bogus challenger? Four years from now there will be two entire generations - between the ages of twenty-two and forty - who will not give a hoot in hell about any election, and their apathy will be rooted in personal experience. Four years from now it will be very difficult to convince anybody who has gone from Johnson/Goldwater to Humphrey/Nixon to Nixon/Muskie that there is any possible reason for getting involved in another bullshit election...

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Meanwhile, back to applying Brasso to my forehead and using it to burnish that spot on the wall. Have a great day, everybody!

5 users have voted.

Twice bitten, permanently shy.

to this poet. Thanks for putting this together each week. The writings you shared are very po powerful and thought provoking.

Have started Into the Beautiful North by Luis Urrea. So relevant and hard to read. Over dinner am reading, Notes from a Public Typewriter by Michael Gustafson. Much more lighthearted.

Have just arrived back at my place outside Austin and cooling down.

2 users have voted.

Life is what you make it, so make it something worthwhile.

This ain't no dress rehearsal!

mimi's picture

0 users have voted.

Trauma is not what happens to you, but what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you. - Dr. Gabor Mate

mimi's picture

just singing along ...

Do you want me to name names? I am not saying I understood them, but I miss their voices.

I guess better not. JtC is watching. Sigh. I hope they all would come back.

1 user has voted.

Trauma is not what happens to you, but what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you. - Dr. Gabor Mate