“Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” by Martín Espada
Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools, Hosted by Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003
Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper
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. The glue would sting, hands oozing till both palms burned at the punch clock. Ten years later, in law school, I knew that every legal pad was glued with the sting of hidden cuts, that every open law book was a pair of hands upturned and burning.
from City of Coughing and Dead Radiators, 1993
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY
Copyright 1993 by Martín Espada.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. from City of Coughing and Dead Radiators. Copyright 1993 by Martín Espada. For further permissions information, contact W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110.
About the Poet
Martín Espada is the author of over a dozen poetry collections, including The Meaning of the Shovel (Smokestack Books, 2015).
Learn more about Martín Espada at The Poetry Foundation.