Imagine the Angels of Bread

By Martín Espada 

This is the year that squatters evict landlords, gazing like admirals from the rail of the roof deck or levitating hands in praise of steam in the shower; 
this is the year that shawled refugees deport judges who stare at the floor and their swollen feet as files are stamped with their destination; 
this is the year that police revolvers, stove-hot, blister the fingers of raging cops, and nightsticks splinter in their palms; 
this is the year that darkskinned men lynched a century ago return to sip coffee quietly with the apologizing descendants of their executioners.

This is the year that those who swim the border’s undertow and shiver in boxcars are greeted with trumpets and drums at the first railroad crossing on the other side; 
this is the year that the hands pulling tomatoes from the vine uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine, the hands canning tomatoes are named in the will that owns the bedlam of the cannery; 
this is the year that eyes stinging from the poison that purifies toilets awaken at last to the sight of a rooster-loud hillside, pilgrimage of immigrant birth; 
this is the year that cockroaches become extinct, that no doctor finds a roach embedded in the ear of an infant; 
this is the year that the food stamps of adolescent mothers are auctioned like gold doubloons, and no coin is given to buy machetes for the next bouquet of severed heads in coffee plantation country.

If the abolition of slave-manacles began as a vision of hands without manacles, then this is the year; 
if the shutdown of extermination camps began as imagination of a land without barbed wire or the crematorium, then this is the year; 
if every rebellion begins with the idea that conquerors on horseback are not many-legged gods, that they too drown if plunged in the river, then this is the year. 

So may every humiliated mouth, teeth like desecrated headstones, fill with the angels of bread.


Cultural Ruptures Reversed: Imagining This is the Year 

Introduction by Jorge D. H. Prósperi, 2019
Poem Critic by Heather Zadra, 2001
Book and Poem by Martín Espada Imagine Angels of Bread, 1996  

In many cultures, bread and Angels are thought to be holy. One nourishes, the other protects. Through his powerful poetry, these are the images that Martín Espada provides in asking us to envision a world where both are present for all, without exceptions. The poem written in 1996, resonates in times like this, as immigrants and their children continue to be mercilessly oppressed and persecuted without bread and Angels. In 2019 a new horror was unleashed – Separátocide – separating children by force from their parents. 

The following is a synopsis of the poem by Heather Zadra published in MAPS – Modern American Poetry Society.

Martín Espada’s “Imagine the Angels of Bread” is a fascinating combination of the vengeful and the visionary, of anger and compassion, and of reality and dream. The speaker imagines a worldwide release from oppression, depicting an escape, among other injustices, from inhumane work conditions, tenant evictions, and politically motivated murders. The poem proceeds by way of a series of near-apocalyptic revolutionary reversals, by inverting long-standing injustices as Espada, on the one hand, imagines those in power themselves suffering for the first time –”squatters evict landlords” –or, conversely, dreams of liberating the poor and the victims of discrimination.

“Imagine the Angels of Bread” is divided roughly into three phases that transition with each stanza break, and that correspond to the speaker’s internal motivations, culminating in the appearance of the Angels of Bread. The first expresses rage and some level of retribution; the second, a freeing of the oppressed and the existence of hope, and the third, a call-to-action in accomplishing the “imagined” of the poem’s title. The final lines recognize the reality of the present time, even as they look toward a future in which change must define what “this year” will bring.”