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luís soares

Blog do escritor Luís Soares

Martín Espada - Four Sandwiches

           —Washington, D.C.


JC was called the Rack   

at the work farm,   

aluminum milk pails   

dangling from his hands.   

Once a sudden fist

crushed the cartilage of nose

across his face,

but JC only grinned,

and the man with the fist   

stumbled away.


JC sings his work farm songs on the street,   

swaying with black overcoat and guitar,   

cigarettes cheaper than food.

But today he promises

four sandwiches, two for each of us.


The landlady, a Rumanian widow,

has nailed a death mask   

over JC’s bed,

sleeping plaster face   

of a drowned girl

peaceful in the dark.


As the girl contemplates water   

and pigeons batter the window,   

JC spreads the last deviled ham   

on two slices of bread,

presses them together,

then slowly tears four pieces.


“Here,” he almost sings,   

“four sandwiches.”

Martín Espada - Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

At sixteen, I worked after high school hours
at a printing plant
that manufactured legal pads:
Yellow paper
stacked seven feet high
and leaning
as I slipped cardboard
between the pages,
then brushed red glue
up and down the stack.
No gloves: fingertips required
for the perfection of paper,
smoothing the exact rectangle.
Sluggish by 9 PM, the hands
would slide along suddenly sharp paper,
and gather slits thinner than the crevices
of the skin, hidden.
Then the glue would sting,
hands oozing
till both palms burned
at the punchclock.


Ten years later, in law school,
I knew that every legal pad
was glued with the sting of hidden cuts,
that every open lawbook
was a pair of hands
upturned and burning.

Martín Espada - Rules for Captain Ahab’s Provincetown Poetry Workshop

1.   Ye shall be free to write a poem on any subject, as long as it’s the White Whale.
2.   A gold doubloon shall be granted to the first among ye who in a poem sights the White Whale.
3.   The Call Me Ishmael Award shall be given to the best poem about the White Whale, with publication in The White Whale Review.
4.   The Herman Melville Memorial Picnic and Softball Game shall be open to whosoever of ye writes a poem about following thy Captain into the maw of hell to kill the White Whale.
5.   There shall be a free floating coffin for any workshop participant who falls overboard whilst writing a poem about the White Whale.
6.   There shall be a free leg, carved from the jawbone of a whale, for any workshop participant who is dismasted whilst writing a poem about the White Whale.
7.   There shall be a free funeral at sea, complete with a chorus of stout hearties singing sea chanteys about the White Whale, for any workshop participant who is decapitated whilst writing a poem about the White Whale.
8.   Ye who seek not the White Whale in thy poems shall be harpooned.

Martín Espada - Letter to My Father

October 2017


You once said: My reward for this life will be a thousand pounds of dirt

shoveled in my face. You were wrong. You are seven pounds of ashes

in a box, a Puerto Rican flag wrapped around you, next to a red brick

from the house in Utuado where you were born, all crammed together

on my bookshelf. You taught me there is no God, no life after this life,

so I know you are not watching me type this letter over my shoulder.


When I was a boy, you were God. I watched from the seventh floor

of the projects as you walked down into the street to stop a public

execution. A big man caught a small man stealing his car, and everyone

in Brooklyn heard the car alarm wail of the condemned: He’s killing me.

At a word from you, the executioner’s hand slipped from the hair

of the thief. The kid was high, was all you said when you came back to us.


When I was a boy, and you were God, we flew to Puerto Rico. You said:

My grandfather was the mayor of Utuado. His name was Buenaventura.

That means good fortune. I believed in your grandfather’s name.

I heard the tree frogs chanting to each other all night. I saw banana

leaf and elephant palm sprouting from the mountain’s belly. I gnawed

the mango’s pit, and the sweet yellow hair stuck between my teeth.

I said to you: You came from another planet. How did you do it?

You said: Every morning, just before I woke up, I saw the mountains.


Every morning, I see the mountains. In Utuado, three sisters,

all in their seventies, all bedridden, all Pentecostales who only left

the house for church, lay sleeping on mattresses spread across the floor

when the hurricane gutted the mountain the way a butcher slices open

a dangled pig, and a rolling wall of mud buried them, leaving the fourth

sister to stagger into the street, screaming like an unheeded prophet

about the end of the world. In Utuado, a man who cultivated a garden

of aguacate and carambola, feeding the avocado and star fruit to his

nieces from New York, saw the trees in his garden beheaded all at once

like the soldiers of a beaten army, and so hanged himself. In Utuado,

a welder and a handyman rigged a pulley with a shopping cart to ferry

rice and beans across the river where the bridge collapsed, witnessed

the cart swaying above so many hands, then raised a sign that told

the helicopters: Campamento los Olvidados: Camp of the Forgotten.


Los olvidados wait seven hours in line for a government meal of Skittles

and Vienna sausage, or a tarp to cover the bones of a house with no roof,

as the fungus grows on their skin from sleeping on mattresses drenched

with the spit of the hurricane. They drink the brown water, waiting

for microscopic monsters in their bellies to visit plagues upon them.

A nurse says: These people are going to have an epidemic. These people

are going to die. The president flips rolls of paper towels to a crowd

at a church in Guaynabo, Zeus lobbing thunderbolts on the locked ward

of his delusions. Down the block, cousin Ricardo, Bernice’s boy, says

that somebody stole his can of diesel. I heard somebody ask you once

what Puerto Rico needed to be free. And you said: Tres pulgadas

de sangre en la calle: Three inches of blood in the street. Now, three

inches of mud flow through the streets of Utuado, and troops patrol

the town, as if guarding the vein of copper in the ground, as if a shovel

digging graves in the backyard might strike the ore below, as if la brigada

swinging machetes to clear the road might remember the last uprising.


I know you are not God. I have the proof: seven pounds of ashes in a box

on my bookshelf. Gods do not die, and yet I want you to be God again.

Stride from the crowd to seize the president’s arm before another roll

of paper towels sails away. Thunder Spanish obscenities in his face.

Banish him to a roofless rainstorm in Utuado, so he unravels, one soaked

sheet after another, till there is nothing left but his cardboard heart.


I promised myself I would stop talking to you, white box of gray grit.

You were deaf even before you died. Hear my promise now: I will take you

to the mountains, where houses lost like ships at sea rise blue and yellow

from the mud. I will open my hands. I will scatter your ashes in Utuado.