“Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” by Martin Espada

xxxxxx

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.

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