Martín Espada’s latest book of poems is Floaters (Norton, 2021), winner of the National Book Award and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Other collections of poems include Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (Norton, 2016), The Trouble Ball (Norton, 2011), and Alabanza (Norton, 2003). He has received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, a Letras Boricuas Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. (Photo: Lauren Marie Schmidt)
My father spoke: Look at this, he said to me. We were walking through an alley from somewhere to somewhere else in Brooklyn. In front of us, a man with white hair and a white beard reached into a dumpster, plucked out a bag of potato chips, stuffed his arm up to the elbow in the bag, let it flutter to the pavement at his feet, and shuffled ahead.
Barry was six-foot-six, fifteen like me, floating layups and hook shots over our heads through the hoop in my driveway. We called him Big Bird for dwarfing us, for his slappy feet, for the mouth that hung in a grin at all
Like the pirates and revolutionaries of legend, heads spiked atop the great bridge spanning the great city, I am now a head without a body. Maybe the body ran away while I was sleeping, slamming headless into walls and doors. Maybe my body flew away, flapping arms, liberated until the zap of telephone wires.