Interview with Martín Espada • Poet

SM: When was the last time you felt like you were a part of an unbreakable circle?

ME: I recently made the mistake of hanging my son’s Burmese albino python around my neck. Now that’s an unbreakable circle. Slowly, the snake realized that my head was not a live mouse, and released her grip.

SM: If you were to consider yourself a vessel, what would be your passenger?

ME: My passenger would be a little man with a captain’s hat, yelling at me: What iceberg? Full speed ahead!

SM: When was the last time you felt at home in a strange city?

ME: In Isla Negra, Chile, the home of Pablo Neruda, a man lifted his boy up to me and said: “Son, this is a poet.” I was home.

SM: If you were able to have a conversation with the street on which you live, what do you suppose it would have to say?

ME: Damn you, bearlike man! Your size fourteen shoes leave tracks on my soul.

SM: Please indulge us with an anecdote.

ME: There are some preconceived notions out there about how Puerto Ricans are supposed to sound, look, dress, etc. Once I was invited to give a reading at a middle school by a teacher who asked me to wear my “native costume.” In February. I showed up wearing a traditional shirt called a guayabera over a turtleneck, and said: “Look, kids! Cultural adaptation.” They didn’t invite me back.

SM: If you were to encounter a girl coming out of a hidden door behind a bookcase in your home, what would be the first thing you would say to her?

ME: I would give her my best advice about life: Never pretend to be a unicorn by sticking a plunger on your head.

SM: Please describe your walk to someone who has never seen it.

ME: My left ankle has been cursed by some ancient pagan deity: a tumor, a fracture, a ruptured tendon, and scars closing resembling the B&O railroad. Therefore, I drag my left leg along like Boris Karloff in a Frankenstein movie, scaring small children to the other side of the street.

SM: When was the last time you talked your way out of an unpleasant situation?

ME: I learned how to talk my way out of unpleasant situations when I worked as a bouncer and the bar doubled the cover charge from fifty cents to a dollar. Now I write political poems in the age of the illiterate presidency. Every time I open my mouth to declaim one of these poems, I am talking my way out of an unpleasant situation. Fortunately, nobody’s listening.

SM: Please fish around in your stream of consciousness and tell us the first thing that comes to mind.

ME: Fish. Maybe eel. I do enjoy a deep-fried eel.

SM: What was the first thing you saw when you opened your door this morning?

ME: The question presumes that I opened the door this morning. After Bush was re-elected, I decided that I’m never going out there again. Instead, I have written a haiku for our troubled times:

Sheep Haiku

A lone sheep cries out:
There are more of us than them!
The flock keeps grazing.