A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen

Martin Espada, Author
Martin Espada, Author W. W. Norton & Company $21 (84p) ISBN 978-0-393-04888-9
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 83 pages - 978-0-393-32168-5
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Espada, a frequent contributor to National Public Radio's various news programs, can keep his magic-inflected tone light even when engaging social disparity: ""As I was about/ to put a quarter/ in the parking meter,/ a man walking by/ stopped, whirled,/ fired three karate kicks/ decapitating the meter,/ and stretched out/ his hand/ for the quarter."" A former tenant lawyer, Espada makes a convincing Robin Hood both in the poem cursing a ""Jim Crow Mexican Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts Where My Cousin Esteban Was Forbidden to Wait Tables Because He Wears Dreadlocks"" and in ""The Governor of Puerto Rico Reveals at His Inaugural That He Is the Reincarnation of Ponce de Leon."" While these poems make a scene defying their overly deterministic titles, it's the quiet and quick ones that make his sixth collection solid, like the title poem, about a man on a fire escape who stops to smoke a cigarette, or ""The Mexican Cabdriver's Poem for His Wife, Who Has Left Him"", in which the speaker, having challenged the poets in his cab to write the poem at hand, supplies the somehow heartbreaking information that his wife isn't like the moon but ""is like the bridge/ when there is so much traffic/ I have time/ to watch the boats/ on the river."" The book ends with a suite of unsatisfying poems about the executions of American political prisoners, but the overall effect of this book is one of poetic uplift in the face of everyday oppression. (Apr.)
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