Martín Espada

The Beating Heart of the Wristwatch

My father worked as a mechanic in the Air Force,
the engines of the planes howling in his ears all day.
One morning the wristwatch his father gave him was gone.
The next day, he saw another soldier wearing the watch.
There was nothing he could say: no one would believe
the greaser airplane mechanic at the Air Force base
in San Antonio. Instead, one howling night he got drunk
and tore up the planks of an empty barracks for firewood.
There was no way for him to tell time locked in the brig.

When he died, I stole my father’s wristwatch.
I listened to the beating heart of the watch.
The heart of the watch kept beating long after
my father’s heart stopped beating. Somewhere,
the son of the man who stole my father’s wristwatch
in the Air Force holds the watch to his ear and listens
to the heart of the watch beating. He keeps the watch
in a sacred place where no one else will hear it.
So the son tries to resurrect the father. The Bible
tells the story wrong. We try to resurrect the father.
We listen for the heartbeat and hear the howling.


First published in Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (Norton, 2016)

Martín Espada has been called by Sandra Cisneros “the Pablo Neruda of North American poets, “ Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published almost twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His new collection of poems from Norton is called Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016). Other books of poems include The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006), Alabanza(2003), A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen(2000), Imagine the Angels of Bread(1996), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993) and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (1990).

His many honors include the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, an American Book Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem of his collection Alabanza, about 9/11, has been widely anthologized and performed. 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, and will be reissued in a new edition this fall. A former tenant lawyer in Greater Boston’s Latino community, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.