Heart of Hunger

Martín Espada
Poet, Essayist, Editor & Translator

Heart of Hunger

Smuggled in boxcars through fields of dark morning,
tied to bundles at railroad crossings,
the brown grain of faces dissolved in bus station dim,
immigrants: mexicano, dominicano,
guatemalteco, puertorriqueño, orphans and travelers,
refused permission to use gas station toilets,
beaten for a beer in unseen towns with white porches,
or evaporated without a tombstone in the peaceful grass,
a centipede of hands moving,
hands clutching infants that grieve,
fingers to the crucifix,
hands that labor.

Long past backroads paved with solitude,
hands in the thousands reach for the crop-ground together,
the countless roots of a tree lightning-torn,
capillaries running to a heart of hunger,
tobaccopicker, grapepicker, lettucepicker.

Obscured in the towering white clouds of cities in winter,
thousands are bowing to assembly lines,
frenzied in kitchens and sweatshops,
mopping the vomit of others' children,
leaning into the iron's steam
and the steel mill glowing.

Yet there is a pilgrimage,
a history straining its arms and legs,
an inexorable striving,
shouting in Spanish
at the police of city jails
and border checkpoints,
mexicano, dominicano,
guatemalteco, puertorriqueño,
fishermen wading into the North American gloom
to pull a fierce gasping life
from the polluted current.


from The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero


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