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About this poet

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Martín Espada is the author of more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator, including The Trouble Ball: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2011), which was the recipient of the Milt Kessler Award, a Massachusetts Book Award, and an International Latino Book Award; The Republic of Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2006), which received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; and Alabanza: New and Selected Poems: 1982-2002 (W. W. Norton, 2003), which was named an American Library Association Notable Book of the year. His earlier collections include Imagine the Angels of Bread (W. W. Norton, 1996), winner of an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (W. W. Norton, 2000); City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (W. W. Norton, 1993); and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (Curbstone, 1990).

Espada has also published two collection of essays: The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive (University of Michigan Press, 2010) and Zapata’s Disciple (South End, 1998); edited two anthologies, Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination from Curbstone Press (Curbstone, 1994) and El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry (1997); and released a CD of poetry called Now the Dead will Dance the Mambo (Leapfrog, 2004).

About Espada's work, the poet Gary Soto has said, "Martín Espada has chosen the larger task: to go outside the self-absorbed terrain of most contemporary poets into a landscape where others—bus drivers, revolutionaries, the executed of El Salvador—sit, walk, or lie dead 'without heads.' There's no rest here. We're jostled awake by the starkness of these moments, but occasionally roll from Espada's political humor."

He has received numerous awards, including the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Creeley Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Antonia Pantoja Award, an Independent Publisher Book Award, a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and two NEA Fellowships.

A graduate of Northeastern University Law School and a former tenant lawyer in the Greater Boston's Latino community, Espada is currently a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100

Martín Espada, 1957

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.

Martín Espada

Martín Espada

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Martín Espada is the author of several collections of poetry

by this poet

poem
for my son Klemnte


In 1898, with the infantry from Illinois, 
the boy who would become the poet Sandburg
rowed his captain's Saint Bernard ashore
at Guánica, and watched as the captain
lobbed cubes of steak at the canine snout.
The troops speared mangos with bayonets
like many suns thudding with
poem
for my father, Frank Espada


In 1941, my father saw his first big league ballgame at Ebbets Field
in Brooklyn: the Dodgers and the Cardinals. My father took his father's hand.
When the umpires lumbered on the field, the band in the stands
with a bass drum and trombone struck up a chorus of Three Blind
poem
Niggerlips was the high school name
for me.
So called by Douglas
the car mechanic, with green tattoos
on each forearm,
and the choir of round pink faces
that grinned deliciously 
from the back row of classrooms,
droned over by teachers
checking attendance too slowly.

Douglas would brag
about cruising his car