Poem of the Week, by Martin Espada

IMG_E2022One of the top-rated MFA programs in the country once recruited me to fly out and interview for a fiction position. A day into the interview, deep in discussion of teaching technique with the faculty and students, I subtly began to portray myself as less interested in criticism and more interested in nurturing a creative spark. This wasn’t what they wanted in a teacher and I knew it. I was in effect throwing the interview, but I wasn’t sure why. 

Years later, I do. In the midst of the enormous talent gathered in that interview room, I wanted to be back with my students. My immigrant, refugee, loan-burdened, first in their family to go to college, work two jobs and raise a family and still make it to class students. Listening as they read their work aloud, then clapping for their gargantuan effort. Seeing a poem they wrote make their classmates cry. When news broke last week of the college-admission bribery scandal, this stunning poem by Martin Espada instantly came to mind, and I thought of my students, their hands upturned and burning.


Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper
by Martin Espada

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.
The glue would sting,
hands oozing
till both palms burned
at the punch clock.

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

For more information on Martin Espada, please check out his website.



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