Not for Him the Fiery Lake of the False Prophet

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.
— Donald Trump, June 16, 2015

They woke him up by pissing in his face. He opened his mouth
to scream in Spanish, so his mouth became a urinal at the ballpark.

Scott and Steve: the Leader brothers, celebrating a night at Fenway,
where the Sox beat the Indians and a rookie named Rodríguez spun
the seams on his changeup to hypnotize the Tribe. Later that night,
Steve urinated on the door of his cell, and Scott told the cops why
they did it: Donald Trump was right. All these illegals need to be deported.

He was a Mexican in a sleeping bag outside JFK station on a night
in August, so they called him a wetback and emptied their bladders
in his hair. In court, the lawyers spoke his name: Guillermo Rodríguez,
immigrant with papers, crop-picker in the fields, trader of bottles
and cans collected in his cart. Two strangers squashed the cartilage
in his nose like a can drained of beer. In dreams, he would remember
the shoes digging into his ribcage, the pole raked repeatedly across
his cheekbones and upraised knuckles, the high-five over his body.

Donald Trump was right, said Scott. And Trump said: The people
that are following me are very passionate. His hands fluttered
as he spoke, a demagogue’s hands, no blood under the fingernails,
no whiff of urine to scrub away. He would orchestrate the chant
of Build That Wall at rally after rally, bellowing till the blood rushed
to his face, red as a demagogue in the grip of masturbatory dreams:
a tribute to the new conquistador, the Wall raised up by Mexican hands,
Mexican hair and fingernails bristling in the brick, Mexican blood
swirling in the cement like raspberry syrup on a vanilla sundae.
On the Cinco de Mayo, he leered over a taco bowl at Trump Tower.

Not for him the fiery lake of the false prophet, reddening
his ruddy face. Not for him the devils of Puritan imagination,
shrieking in a foreign tongue and climbing in the window
like the immigrant demons he conjures for the crowd.
Not even for him ten thousand years of the Leader brothers,
streaming a fountain of piss in his face as he sputters forever.

For him, Hell is a country where the man in a hard hat
paving the road to JFK station sees Guillermo and dials 911;
Hell is a country where EMTs kneel to wrap a blanket around
the shivering shoulders of Guillermo and wipe his face clean;
Hell is a country where the nurse at the emergency room
hangs a morphine drip for Guillermo, so he can go back to sleep.
Two thousand miles away, someone leaves a trail of water bottles
in the desert for the border crossing of the next Guillermo.

We smuggle ourselves across the border of a demagogue’s dreams:
Confederate generals on horseback tumble one by one into
the fiery lake of false prophets; into the fiery lake crumbles
the demolished Wall. Thousands stand, sledgehammers in hand,
to await the bullhorns and handcuffs, await the trembling revolvers.
In the full moon of the flashlight, every face interrogates the interrogator.
In the full moon of the flashlight, every face is the face of Guillermo.

— Martín Espada

Martín Espada’s published his first book of political poems, The Immigrant Iceboy’s Bolero, illustrated with photographs taken by his father, in 1982. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (1998), was banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona. Professor of English at UMass-Amherst, Espada was awarded the 2018 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

[Research note: Poetry (November 2018)]

Letter to an Archaeologist

Citizen, enemy, mama’s boy, sucker, utter
garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven.
Also: we didn’t love our women, but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of pickax that hurts dead iron;
still, it’s gentler that what we’ve been told or have said ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
Leave our names alone. Don’t reconstruct those vowels,
consonants, and so forth: they won’t resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces, feces, and barks, and barks.

— Joseph Brodsky, 1985

Joseph Brodsky teaching at the University of Michigan.Image: 1973 University of Michigan Yearbook, Michiganesian

Joseph Brodsky teaching at the University of Michigan.
Image: 1973 University of Michigan Yearbook, Michiganesian

Joseph Brodsky gave his first public poetry reading at the Gorky Palace of Culture in 1960. In January 1961, he was arrested by the KGB for the first time. In the early 1960s, he was twice imprisoned in a mental institution for producing “pornographic and anti-Soviet” poetry. In 1964, he was sentenced to five years of hard labor for “parasitism” (not holding a State-approved job). The Soviet state commuted his sentence to 18 months in response to international protests. Brodksy was forced onto a plane and into exile in June 1972. He became a U.S. citizen in 1977.

[Research note: Alexandra Berlina, “Afterlife Beyond Translation: Joseph Brodsky,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature (December 2013): 370-383.]