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Puerto Rican Poetry

Judith Ortiz Cofer | Martin Espada | Sandra Maria Esteves

Martin Espada
"For more than a decade now," according to the Bloomsbury Review, "with growing confidence and ease, [Martin] Espada has been emerging as our modern Walt Whitman." Many of Espada's poems arise from his Puerto Rican heritage and his work experiences ranging from bouncer to tenant lawyer. His books of verse include A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen: Poems (2000), Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), which won an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award; City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993); and Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction (1987).

Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands (1990), a bilingual collection, won the PEN/Revson Fellowship and the Paterson Poetry Prize. The PEN judges were unanimous: "This is political poetry at its best...The greatness of Espada's art, like all great art, is that it gives dignity to the insulted and the injured of the earth."

Public School 190, Brooklyn 1963
Martin Espada

The inkwells had no ink.
The flag had 48 stars, four years
after Alaska and Hawaii.
There were vandalized blackboards
and chairs with three legs,
taped windows, retarded boys penned
in the basement.
Some of us stared in Spanish.
We windmilled punches
or hid in the closet to steal from coats
as the teacher drowsed, head bobbing.
We had the Dick and Jane books,
but someone filled in their faces
with a brown crayon.

When Kennedy was shot,
they hurried us onto buses,
not saying why,
saying only that
something bad had happened.
But we knew
something bad had happened,
knew that before
November 22, 1963.

From Imagine the Angels of Bread. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Coco-Cola and Coco Frio
Martin Espada
On his first visit to Puerto Rico,
island of family folklore,
the fat boy wandered
from table to table
with his mouth open.
At every table, some great-aunt
would steer him with cool spotted hands
to a glass of Coca-Cola.
One even sang to him, in all the English
she could remember, a Coca-Cola jingle
from the forties. He drank obediently, though
he was bored with this potion, familiar
from soda fountains in Brooklyn.

Then, at a roadside stand off the beach, the fat boy
opened his mouth to coco frio, a coconut
chilled, then scalped by a machete
so that a straw could inhale the clear milk.
The boy tilted the green shell overhead
and drooled coconut milk down his chin;
suddenly, Puerto Rico was not Coca-Cola
or Brooklyn, and neither was he.

For years afterward, the boy marveled at an island
where the people drank Coca-Cola
and sang jingles from World War II
in a language they did not speak,
while so many coconuts in the trees
sagged heavy with milk, swollen
and unsuckled.

From City of Coughing and Dead Radiators. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

We Live by What We See At Night
Martin Espada

for my father

When the mountains of Puerto Rico
flickered in your sleep
with a moist green light
when you saw green bamboo hillsides
before waking to East Harlem rooftops
or Texas barracks
when you crossed the bridge
built by your grandfather
over a river glimpsed
only in interrupted dreaming,
your craving for the island birthplace
burrowed, deep
as thirty years' exile,
constant as your pulse

From Here is My Kingdom, edited by Charles Sullivan. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Judith Ortiz Cofer | Martin Espada | Sandra Maria Esteves

Essays + Interviews:
Puerto Ricans in America | Puerto Rican Poetry | Esmeralda Santiago

Essays + Interviews | Puerto Rico: A Timeline
Memoir to Film | Story Synopsis | Cast + Credits
Links + Bibliography | Teacher's Guide | The Forum

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