Martín Espada


            For Howard Zinn (1922-2010)


I go two steps closer, she moves two steps away.  I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.

--Eduardo Galeano 

You walked alone, away from the city writhing in flames and jellied gasoline, 
away from the canisters of napalm dropped by your bombardier’s hands,
away from medals and ribbons stuffed in a folder with the words never again;
walking the backroads in a country of Confederate flags, shoes baked in mud,
shuffling on the picket line with dark-skinned sharecroppers, teachers, organizers
who hungered for the ballot box and sang all night to keep their jailers awake;
walking with apparitions, the escaped slave reading the compass of the moon
between the trees, the anarchist in spectacles who made of the crowd a roaring sea,
the union man on trial for subversion of the draft, who confessed the crime
and told the judge with open hands: while there is a soul in prison, I am not free;
walking through the metal detectors of courthouses and airports, smuggling
manifestos in your head from the slave, the anarchist, the unionist, words freed
as a magician frees doves flown to the rafters from the great stage of the world;
walking through schoolrooms, the smooth oval of faces tilted up, astonished
by your words as they floated down like parachutes of milkweed on the wind;
walking by the river with the fugitive poet-priest who sang of the risen bread,
as agents of the government hunted for the poet everywhere but the river;
walking through the mace that hissed in your eyes at the march against the war,
the cuffs that clicked, the billyclubs that jabbed the ribs of your thin body;
walking in the circle of the peace vigil on the town common at noon,
past the jeers and staring of the onlookers who know that nothing changes;
walking when your legs trembled in the storm of nerves crushed by the spine,
when you knew you would never arrive, that the world was too bright with ice
for a fistful of sand and careful steps, and yet your fingers still tapped out
the messages of dissidents as you spoke, darting with the delirium of sparrows,
walking with thousands beside you now, a roaring sea, down the road to a city
where they greet you with blackberries that grow wild in the ruins, where scars
of liquid fire dissolve into the skin, where the bombs will never fall again.