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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.

Inheritance of Waterfalls and Sharks

Martín Espada, 1957
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 shredded yellow flesh
to earth. General Miles, who chained Geronimo
for the photograph in sepia of the last renegade,
promised Puerto Rico the blessings of enlightened civilization.
Private Sandburg marched, peeking at a book
nested in his palm for the words of Shakespeare.

Dazed in blue wool and sunstroke, they stumbled up the mountain
to Utuado, learned the war was over, and stumbled away.
Sandburg never met great-great-grand uncle Don Luis, 
who wore a linen suit that would not wrinkle,
read with baritone clarity scenes from Hamlet
house to house for meals of rice and beans, 
the Danish prince and his soliloquy—ser o no ser—	
saluted by rum, the ghost of Hamlet's father wandering
through the ceremonial ballcourts of the Taíno.

In Caguas or Cayey Don Luis
was the reader at the cigar factory,
newspapers in the morning, 
Cervantes or Marx in the afternoon,
rocking with the whirl of unseen sword
when Quijote roared his challenge to giants, 
weaving the tendrils of his beard when he spoke
of labor and capital, as the tabaqueros 
rolled leaves of tobacco to smolder in distant mouths.

Maybe he was the man of the same name
who published a sonnet in the magazine of browning leaves
from the year of the Great War and the cigar strike.
He disappeared; there were rumors of Brazil,
inciting canecutters or marrying the patrón's daughter,
maybe both, but always the reader, whipping Quijote's sword overhead.

Another century, and still the warships scavenge
Puerto Rico's beaches with wet snouts. For practice, 
Navy guns hail shells coated with uranium over Vieques
like a boy spinning his first curveball;
to the fisherman on the shore, the lung is a net
and the tumor is a creature with his own face, gasping.

This family has no will, no house, no farm, no island.
But today the great-great-great-grand nephew of Don Luis,
not yet ten, named for a jailed poet and fathered by another poet,
in a church of the Puritan colony called Massachusetts,
wobbles on a crate and grabs the podium
to read his poem about El Yunque waterfalls
and Achill basking sharks, and shouts:
I love this.  

"Inheritance of Waterfalls and Sharks," from Alabancza by Martín Espada. Copyright © 2003 by Martín Espada. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Martín Espada

Martín Espada

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

by this poet


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
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
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