For the full text of “Albanza,” by Martin Espada, visit the poet’s website at MartinEspada.net.
In the prose poem “Alabanza,” acclaimed poet Martin Espada honors the forty-three members of Local 100 who died in the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. These workers staffed the Windows on the World restaurant, located at the top of the North Tower.
The first two stanzas of “Alabanza” begin with deft, quick portraits animated by the music of bread and eggs: a cook from Fajardo whose blue eyes echo Spanish and American invasions of Puerto Rico. The tattooed “oye” on his shoulder, an exclamation that shares shades of meaning across several languages and cultures, underlines the transcendence of words. Each worker carries familial histories in bodies as they move through daily routines of feeding customers.
Espada’s next sketches build on these personal moments by intentionally linking histories of structural conquest and labor movements in the Caribbean. The roll call of migrant and immigrant workers listed in this poem serve as remembrance. In its breathtaking diversity, it is also a reminder that our cities are points for labor flows affected by agrarian and trade agreements and military campaigns. Espada avoids commenting on the attacks on the Twin Towers themselves, but instead directs us to the unspoken lives and labor struggles represented in the poem. As the poem opens outward, it moves beyond our imaginations.
I have a tendency to think and write in a stream of consciousness when it comes to poetry and short stories. I have wanted to write something like Mind Graffiti (below) for a couple of years now. It was like a huge itch in the back of my mind and it took me a very long time to get the right words together.
“Believing in Iron” and “Against Silence” are poems that speak directly to African American history, lives and labor as they intersect with our domestic and international military campaigns.
Poet Yusef Komunyakaa’s work in part draws from his experiences as an African-American growing up in Louisiana during the Civil Rights movement and later, as an American editor and correspondent covering the Vietnam War. Tyehimba Jess, a promising new voice, connects our current drone campaigns in Pakistan (among other countries) to the growing militarization of our American policing institutions and the impact of both on young people of color in the United States. Continue reading “Believing in Iron” and “Against Silence”→
Philip Levine wrote unflinchingly and with nuanced craft about American working class life. Levine died on Saturday, February 14th, at the age of 87. Hear him talk about and recite his poem, “They Feed the Lion” at the National Endowment for the Arts website.
Read more on this elder and former Poet Laureate of American poetry, and his influence on poetry readers in this discussion in The New York Times. Levine’s work is known especially to our nation’s working class and immigrant writers who engage questions of labor, relationships and social justice.