Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

By Martín Espada b. 1957 Martin Espada
At sixteen, I worked after high school hours
at a printing plant
that manufactured legal pads:
Yellow paper
stacked seven feet high
and leaning
as I slipped cardboard
between the pages,
then brushed red glue
up and down the stack.
No gloves: fingertips required
for the perfection of paper,
smoothing the exact rectangle.
Sluggish by 9 PM, the hands
would slide along suddenly sharp paper,
and gather slits thinner than the crevices
of the skin, hidden.
Then the glue would sting,
hands oozing
till both palms burned
at the punchclock.

Ten years later, in law school,
I knew that every legal pad
was glued with the sting of hidden cuts,
that every open lawbook
was a pair of hands
upturned and burning.

Martin Espada, "Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper" from City of Coughing and Dead Radiators. Copyright © 1993 by Martin Espada.  Used by permission of the author W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993)

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Poet Martín Espada b. 1957

Subjects Activities, Jobs & Working, School & Learning

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Martín  Espada


Poet, essayist, translator, editor, and attorney: Martín Espada has dedicated much of his career to the pursuit of social justice, including fighting for Latino rights and reclaiming the historical record. Espada’s critically acclaimed collections of poetry celebrate—and lament—the immigrant and working class experience. Whether narrating the struggles of Puerto Ricans and Chicanos as they adjust to life in the United States, or . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Jobs & Working, School & Learning

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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