Martín Espada’s Floaters captures stories of immigrants struggling against discrimination and poverty. The portraits he paints with words include Puerto Ricans in the Bronx and undocumented migrants on the US-Mexico border. Espada brings injustice to the forefront – the title refers to US Border Patrol officers’ term for bodies floating in the Rio Grande – but it is his dignifying of immigrants and the disenfranchised that erupts throughout the collection with rhythmic cadences and vivid imagery.
Espada’s poems lay bare the way anti-immigrant rhetoric can lead to physical violence. In “Not for Him the Fiery Lake of the False Prophet” Espada tells the story of a homeless Mexican man, Guillermo Rodríguez, who was beaten while in a sleeping bag outside a Boston subway station: “Two strangers squashed the cartilage in his nose like a can of drained beer.” The perpetrators’ motivation? In their own words: “Donald Trump was right. All these illegals need to be deported.” Meanwhile, “Two thousand miles away, someone leaves a trail of water bottles / in the desert for the border crossing of the next Guillermo.”
These poems, however, are not merely snapshots of today’s political moment. They timelessly capture both sorrow and beauty, honoring those who struggle for dignity. There are love poems to the world and to a lover. In one poem Espada writes, “Then I see you, watching the violinist, his eyes shut, the Russian / composer’s concerto in his head, white horsehair fraying on the bow, / and your face is bright with tears, and there it is again, the word love, / not a fly or a mosquito, not a cricket or a bee, but the Luna moth / we saw one night, luminous green wings knocking at the screen / on the window as if to say I have a week to live, let me in, and I do.”
Sheryl Luna is the author of Pity the Drowned Horses.