The Moon Shatters

Martín Espada
Poet, Essayist, Editor & Translator

The Moon Shatters on Alabama Avenue

 

A wooden box rattled

with coins for the family,

on a stoop where the roots

of a brown bloodstain grew.

 

Brooklyn, 1966: Agropino Bonillo was his name,

a neighbor, the yellow leaflet said,

a kitchen worker who walked home

under the scaffolding of trains at night,

hurrying past streetlamps with dark eyes.

He was there when the boys surrounded him,

quick with shouts and pushing,

addiction's hunger in a circle.

When he had no money,

the kicking began.

 

The mourners clustered at the storefront,

then marched between cadaverous buildings

down Alabama Avenue,

as the night turned blue with rain

in a heavy sky of elevated track.

The first candles struggled, smothered wet;

onlookers leaned warily as they watched.

A community of faces gathered and murmured

in the dim circles of light,

kept alive by cupped hands.

 

In the asphalt street shined black from rain

and windows where no one was seen

hesitant candles appeared, a pale blur started

on the second floor, another trembling glimmer

slipped to the back of the march, then more,

multiplied into a constellation

spreading over the sidewalk,

a swarm of candles that throbbed descending

tenement steps in the no longer absolute dark,

as if the moon had shattered

and dropped in burning white pieces

on the night.

 

His name was Agropino Bonillo,

spoken remembering

every sixty dollar week

he was bent in the kitchen,

his children

who could not dress for winter

and brawled against welfare taunts

at the schoolyard,

the unlit night

that the sweep of legs was stopped

by his belly and his head.

 

And the grief of thousands illuminated city blocks,

moving with the tired feet of the poor:

candles a reminder of the wakes too many and too soon,

the frustrated prayers and pleading with saints,

in memoriam for generations of sacrificed blood

warm as the wax sticking to their fingers,

and years of broken streetlamps, bowed

with dark eyes, where addiction's hunger waits nervously.

 

Over the wooden box, a woman's face

was slick in a drizzle of tears.

Her hand dropped coins like seed.

 

from Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction

 

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