Ode to the Soccer Ball Sailing Over a Barbed Wire Fence
Tornillo…has become the symbol of what may be the largest U.S. mass
detention of children not charged with crimes since the World War II
internment of Japanese-Americans.—Robert Moore, Texas Monthly
Praise Tornillo: word for screw in Spanish, word for jailer in English,
word for three thousand adolescent migrants incarcerated in camp.
Praise the three thousand soccer balls gift-wrapped at Christmas,
as if raindrops in the desert inflated and bounced through the door.
Praise the soccer games rotating with a whistle every twenty minutes
so three thousand adolescent migrants could take turns kicking a ball.
Praise the boys and girls who walked a thousand miles, blood caked
in their toes, yelling in Spanish and a dozen Mayan tongues on the field.
Praise the first teenager, brain ablaze like chili pepper Christmas lights,
to kick a soccer ball high over the chain link and barbed wire fence.
Praise the first teenager to scrawl a name and number on the face
of the ball, then boot it all the way to the dirt road on the other side.
Praise the smirk of teenagers at the jailers scooping up fugitive
soccer balls, jabbering about the ingratitude of teenagers at Christmas.
Praise the soccer ball sailing over the barbed wire fence, white
and black like the moon, yellow like the sun, blue like the world.
Praise the soccer ball flying to the moon, flying to the sun, flying to other
worlds, flying to Antigua Guatemala, where Starbucks buys coffee beans.
Praise the soccer ball bounding off the lawn at the White House,
thudding off the president’s head as he waves to absolutely no one.
Praise the piñata of the president’s head, jellybeans pouring from his ears,
enough to feed three thousand adolescents incarcerated at Tornillo.
Praise Tornillo: word in Spanish for adolescent migrant internment camp,
abandoned by jailers in the desert, liberated by a blizzard of soccer balls.
Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published more than twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His forthcoming book of poems from Norton is called Floaters. Other books of poems include Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016), The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006), Alabanza (2003), A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (2000), Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993) and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (1990). He is the editor of What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump (2019). His many honors include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, an American Book Award, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His book of essays and poems, Zapata’s Disciple (1998), was banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona, and reissued by Northwestern University Press. A former tenant lawyer, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
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