by Martin Espada

This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year
that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.

This is the year that those
who swim the border’s undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes
stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth;
this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.

If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.

So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.

Martin Espada has been called “the Latino poet of his generation” and “the Pablo Neruda of North American authors.” Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957, he has published seventeen books in all as a poet, editor, essayist and translator.

Editor’s Note: This post was by request. If you have a request of your own please feel free to post it as a comment.

Want to read more by and about Martin Espada?
The Poetry Foundation

About Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Sivan is the Managing Editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be and holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a professor, writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita. She is also the founder of Reviving Herstory. Sivan welcomes feedback, poetry submissions, and solicitations of her writing via email at sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com.
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  1. jesse says:

    This is fantastic. J

  2. Margaret M Walsh says:

    good afternoon from camp luna linda —
    my home in central WA state —

    the genius of Francis of Assisi’s Prayer —

    thank-you — MM

  3. Nate says:

    Great poem – I wish more art contained this kind of passion against injustice.

  4. maya elashi says:

    beyond the barbed wire and 20 foot fences made to pole vault, may every mouth, indeed, be filled with the angels of bread!

  5. Kathleen says:

    Agree with Nate – love this poem and its passion. May I put in a request in this regard. One of the great poet Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems: either “Who Understands Me But Me” or “They Only Came to See the Zoo”. Whichever works best for you as they are both profoundly great. I would like to dedicate this to all prisoners everywhere. Thanks.

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