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About this poet

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Martín Espada is the author of more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator, including The Trouble Ball: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2011), which was the recipient of the Milt Kessler Award, a Massachusetts Book Award, and an International Latino Book Award; The Republic of Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2006), which received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; and Alabanza: New and Selected Poems: 1982-2002 (W. W. Norton, 2003), which was named an American Library Association Notable Book of the year. His earlier collections include Imagine the Angels of Bread (W. W. Norton, 1996), winner of an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (W. W. Norton, 2000); City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (W. W. Norton, 1993); and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (Curbstone, 1990).

Espada has also published two collection of essays: The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive (University of Michigan Press, 2010) and Zapata’s Disciple (South End, 1998); edited two anthologies, Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination from Curbstone Press (Curbstone, 1994) and El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry (1997); and released a CD of poetry called Now the Dead will Dance the Mambo (Leapfrog, 2004).

About Espada's work, the poet Gary Soto has said, "Martín Espada has chosen the larger task: to go outside the self-absorbed terrain of most contemporary poets into a landscape where others—bus drivers, revolutionaries, the executed of El Salvador—sit, walk, or lie dead 'without heads.' There's no rest here. We're jostled awake by the starkness of these moments, but occasionally roll from Espada's political humor."

He has received numerous awards, including the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Creeley Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Antonia Pantoja Award, an Independent Publisher Book Award, a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and two NEA Fellowships.

A graduate of Northeastern University Law School and a former tenant lawyer in the Greater Boston's Latino community, Espada is currently a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The Trouble Ball [excerpt]

Martín Espada, 1957
for my father, Frank Espada


In 1941, my father saw his first big league ballgame at Ebbets Field
in Brooklyn: the Dodgers and the Cardinals. My father took his father's hand.
When the umpires lumbered on the field, the band in the stands
with a bass drum and trombone struck up a chorus of Three Blind Mice.
The peanut vendor shook a cowbell and hollered. The home team
raced across the diamond, and thirty thousand people shouted
all at once, as if an army of liberation rolled down Bedford Avenue.
My father shouted, too. He wanted to see The Trouble Ball.

On my father's island, there were hurricanes and tuberculosis, dissidents in jail
and baseball. The loudspeakers boomed: Satchel Paige pitching for the Brujos
of Guayama. From the Negro Leagues he brought the gifts of Baltasar the King;
from a bench on the plaza he told the secrets of a thousand pitches: The Trouble Ball,
The Triple Curve, The Bat Dodger, The Midnight Creeper, The Slow Gin Fizz,
The Thoughtful Stuff. Pancho Coímbre hit rainmakers for the Leones of Ponce;
Satchel sat the outfielders in the grass to play poker, windmilled three pitches
to the plate, and Pancho spun around three times. He couldn't hit The Trouble Ball.

At Ebbets Field, the first pitch echoed in the mitt of Mickey Owen,
the catcher for the Dodgers who never let the ball escape his glove.
A boy off the boat, my father shelled peanuts, waiting for Satchel Paige
to steer his gold Cadillac from the bullpen to the mound, just as he would
navigate the streets of Guayama. Yet Satchel never tipped his cap that day.
¿Dónde están los negros? asked the boy. Where are the Negro players?
No los dejan, his father softly said. They don't let them play here.
Mickey Owen would never have to dive for The Trouble Ball.

It was then that the only brown boy at Ebbets Field felt himself
levitate above the grandstand and the diamond, another banner
at the ballgame. From up high he could see that everyone was white,
and their whiteness was impossible, like snow in Puerto Rico,
and just as silent, so he could not hear the cowbell, or the trombone,
or the Dodger fans howling with glee at the bases-loaded double.
He understood why his father whispered in Spanish: everybody
in the stands might overhear the secret of The Trouble Ball.

At Ebbets Field in 1941, the Dodgers met the Yankees in the World Series.
Mickey Owen dropped the third strike with two outs in the ninth inning
of Game Four, flailing like a lobster in the grip of a laughing fisherman,
and the Yankees stamped their spikes across the plate to win. Brooklyn,
the borough of churches, prayed for his fumbling soul. This was the reason
statues of the Virgin leaked tears and the fathers of Brooklyn drank,
not the banishment of Satchel Paige to doubleheaders in Bismarck,
North Dakota. There were no rosaries or boilermakers for The Trouble Ball.

My father would return to baseball on 108th Street. He pitched for the Crusaders,
kicking high like Satchel, riding the team bus painted with four-leaf clovers, seasick
all the way to Hackensack or the Brooklyn Parade Grounds. One day he jammed
his wrist sliding into second, threw three more innings anyway, and never pitched again.
He would return to Ebbets Field to court my mother. The same year they were married
a waiter refused to serve them, a mixed couple sitting all night in the corner,
till my father hoisted him by his lapels and the waiter's feet dangled in the air,
a puppet and his furious puppeteer. My father was familiar with The Trouble Ball.
I was born in Brooklyn in 1957, when the Dodgers packed their duffle bags
and left the city. A wrecking ball swung an uppercut into the face
of Ebbets Field. I heard the stories: how my mother, lost in the circles
and diamonds of her scorecard, never saw Jackie Robinson accelerate
down the line to steal home. I wore my father's glove until the day
I laid it down to lap the water from the fountain in the park. By the time
I raised my head, it was gone like Ebbets Field. I walked slowly home.
I had to tell my father I would never learn to catch The Trouble Ball.

There was a sign below the scoreboard at Ebbets Field: Abe Stark, Brooklyn's
Leading Clothier. Hit Sign, Win Suit. Some people see that sign in dreams.
They speak of ballparks as cathedrals, frame the pennants from the game
where it began, Dodger blue and Cardinal red, and gaze upon the wall.
My father, who remembers everything, remembers nothing of that dazzling day
but this: ¿Dónde están los negros? No los dejan. His hair is white, and still
the words are there, like the ghostly imprint of stitches on the forehead
from a pitch that got away. It is forever 1941. It was The Trouble Ball.

From The Trouble Ball, published by W.W. Norton. Copyright © 2011 by Martín Espada. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Martín Espada

Martín Espada

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Martín Espada is the author of several collections of poetry

by this poet

poem
for my son Klemnte


In 1898, with the infantry from Illinois, 
the boy who would become the poet Sandburg
rowed his captain's Saint Bernard ashore
at Guánica, and watched as the captain
lobbed cubes of steak at the canine snout.
The troops speared mangos with bayonets
like many suns thudding with
poem
Niggerlips was the high school name
for me.
So called by Douglas
the car mechanic, with green tattoos
on each forearm,
and the choir of round pink faces
that grinned deliciously 
from the back row of classrooms,
droned over by teachers
checking attendance too slowly.

Douglas would brag
about cruising his car
poem

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye