06 August 2014

Poem I Wish I'd Written: Martín Espada's “Preciosa Like a Last Cup of Coffee”

by Shauna Osborn, Contributing Editor 

Martín Espada is one of my favorite poets. I have found myself envious of much of his work and the more I read, the deeper I am drawn to him. I appreciate Espada’s choices—language, imagery, subject matter, the strength of his characters and personas. What I most envy is how clearly the worlds within his poems come alive for the reader and the surprises each poem holds.  In “Preciosa Like a Last Cup of Coffee” there is much to envy, but I most appreciate how Espada handles the tension of Tata’s present situation by pairing the current moments in the poem with the colorful images of Tata’s past, taking the reader out of the hospital room for a much needed breath of fresh air.  The tenderness of family members juxtaposed with the starch and unyielding hospital scene allows the magical moments to really shine.

“Preciosa Like a Last Cup of Coffee”
by Martín Espada

Tata says her wheelchair
has been stolen by the nurses.
She hallucinates the ceiling fan
spinning closer, the vertigo
of a plummeting helicopter,
but cannot raise her hands
against the blades. Her legs jerk
with the lightning that splits trees.
She scolds her dead sister,
who studies Tata’s face
from a rocking chair by the bed
but does not answer.
The grandchildren are grateful
for the plastic diaper, the absence of bedsores.

Tata’s mouth collapses without teeth,
her words are miners blackened in the hole.
Now a word pushes out: café.
No coffee for her, or she won’t eat,
says the nurse.
Tata craves more than a puddle
in a styrofoam cup:
the coffee farm in Utuado, 1928,
the mountains hoisting a harvest of clouds,
the beans a handful of planets,
the spoon in the cup a silver oar,
and the roosters’ bickering choir.

But no coffee today.
Cousin Bernice crawls into the bed,
stretches her body across Tata’s body
like a drowsy lover, mouth hovering
before her grandmother’s eyes
as she chants the word: Preciousa.

Preciosa like the song,
chorus brimming from a kitchen radio
on West 98th Street after the war,
splashing down the fire escape,
preciousa te llaman.
An island from the sky
or a last cup of coffee.
Tata repeats: Preciousa.
The song bathes her tongue.

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