The landlord says we have to go. On the night the thermostat read seventeen
below zero, and there was no heat on the first floor, the Massachusetts State
Sanitary Code appeared in the landlord’s in-box like a spirit tapping bony
knuckles on his window, and a letter appeared in the landlord’s in-box
like a spirit scratching the words no rent in the frost on his window,
and the landlord’s mouth foamed as if he’d swallowed detergent,
and the foam froze on his beard, and the landlord’s plumber laid
twenty-four feet of baseboard on the first floor, and now we have to go.
The landlord keeps his vintage 1976 Monte Carlo parked at the edge
of the driveway, purple inside and out, paint job and upholstery purple,
the color of emperors. The mad emperor Caligula assassinated his cousin,
jealous of his purple cloak, and the mad emperor’s mouth foamed
as if he’d swallowed detergent, and the foam froze on his beard.
The neighbors report a moose sighting today. The moose charges from the woods,
mad as an emperor jealous of a purple cloak, sees the purple vintage
1976 Monte Carlo as another moose, and rams Caligula’s chariot with
his bristling antlers, kicking the car the way a teenager high on detergent
T-boned my leased Toyota Corolla two weeks ago, and so the moose claims
his territory, this land without a gas station or a movie theater or a pizza joint
or a doctor’s office, and gallops back into the woods, snorting foam.
Now come the hunters tracking the moose, crossbows bristling since crossbow
season is upon us, their vision blurred by a night of Red Bull and detergent,
and see the purple vintage 1976 Monte Carlo as a moose, firing volley
after volley of arrows into the windshield, and the talisman of the air freshener
hanging from the rearview mirror does not keep the glass from exploding,
and the jumper cables coiled in the back seat do not rise magically like electric
eels, and the hunters explode in a cry of huzzah, waving their crossbows
as if their arrows thumped the hump of Richard the hunchback king.
The purple vintage 1976 Monte Carlo is a dead moose, tow truck dragging
away the carcass to a round of applause in my brain. The landlord will snort
and foam, demanding to know why there is nothing left but his mutilated
vanity plate stamped with the year 1976, and I will speak to him in Brooklynese,
palms turned upward in the universal gesture of the uncooperative witness.
He will keep my security deposit, his territory without a gas station
or a movie theater or a pizza joint or a doctor’s office. I say huzzah.
Espada, M. (2022). The Assassination of the Landlord's Purple Vintage 1976 Monte Carlo. In Floaters: Poems. essay, W. W. Norton & Company.
This prose poem demonstrates Espada's playful side while remaining true to his lifelong themes of the struggle between the underprivileged and would-be exploiters. In this one, a moose exacts vengeance on behalf of the tenants by attacking the landlord's expensive car with its antlers. While observing the brutal reaction of hunters attempting to hit the moose with a crossbow, Espada concludes with a triumphant cry of 'Huzzah!' as the moose flees and the car is hit instead.
Martin Espada has dedicated much of his career to the pursuit of social justice, including fighting for human rights and reclaiming the historical record, as a poet, professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, essayist, translator, editor, and attorney. His critically acclaimed poetry collections both honor and lament the working-class experience. Espada has given voice to otherness, powerlessness, and poverty in poetry that is both moving and vivid, whether narrating the struggles of immigrants as they adjust to life in the United States or chronicling the battles that Latin Americans have waged against their own repressive governments.
His father, Frank Espada, a community organizer, civil rights activist, and documentary photographer who founded the Puerto Rican Diaspora Documentary Project, has been his greatest influence. Espada studied history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and law at Northeastern University. He worked as a tenant lawyer for many years, and his first book of poetry, The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero (1982), included photographs taken by his father. Trumpets from the Island of Their Eviction (1987), Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands (1990), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993), Angels of Bread (1996), and Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover's Hands (1990) all received the PEN/Revson Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize.
His work include: A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen (2000), Alabanza: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2002 (2003), The Republic of Poetry (2006), and The Trouble Ball (2008) are among Espada's poetry collections (2011). The Meaning of the Shovel (2014), Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016), and Floaters (2021), winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, are his most recent books. His collection Alabanza received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was named an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year; the title poem, which addresses 9/11, was widely anthologized and performed. The Republic of Poetry, a book about the political power and efficacy of poetry, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
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