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 near sidewalks of black children to point an unloaded gun, to scare niggers like crows off a tree, he'd say. My great-grandfather Luis was un negrito too, a shoemaker in the coffee hills of Puerto Rico, 1900. The family called him a secret and kept no photograph. My father remembers the childhood white powder that failed to bleach his stubborn copper skin, and the family says he is still a fly in milk. So Niggerlips has the mouth of his great-grandfather, the song he must have sung as he pounded the leather and nails, the heat that courses through copper, the stubbornness of a fly in milk, and all you have, Douglas, is that unloaded gun.
From Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands by Martín Espada, published by permission of Curbstone Press. Copyright © 1990 by Martín Espada. Reprinted with permission of Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium. All rights reserved.