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Poem: Borofels





(for Sonia Nieto)

In Brooklyn, the mice were crazy
with courage, bony gray pickpockets
snatching crumbs from plates
at the table. The roaches
panicked in spirals on the floor,
or weaved down walls
for the sanctuary of cracked paint.
No heat, so the oven door drooped open
like an immigrant’s surprise.

Sonia’s mother was mute in English,
mouth chapped and coughing
without words to yell for heat.
But the neighbors spoke of Borofels:
Tell Borofels, and mice shrivel in traps,
roaches kick in poisoned heaps,
steam pipes bang so loud
that windows open in winter.

Sonia and her mother sailed
on a subway train rocking like a ship
desperate for light, then rose
into an untranslated territory
of Brooklyn.  So Sonia translated:
“Where is Borofels?”
No one knew; the girl pinballed
by strangers in a hurry,  hooded against frost
as mouths puffed quick clouds of denial.

Sonia saw the uniform then,
blue-coated trooper of the U.S. Mail,
and pleaded for Borofels.

His face, drowsing in bewilderment,
awoke with the gust
of what he suddenly understood,
and he pointed down the street:
“You want
the Board of Health.”

They could yell now
like banned poets
back from exile.


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

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957, Martín Espada has published more than 15 books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. Collections of poems have been published in translation in Spain, Puerto Rico and Chile. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (South End Press, 1998), has been banned in Tucson schools. A former tenant lawyer, Espada is currently a professor in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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