Friday, July 8, 2016

July 8: Hard Work, Martin Espada, "Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper"

I grew up in a family of hard workers.  My dad was a plumber.  So were my three older brothers.  When I was about thirteen, my dad expected me to go on service calls with him and my brothers.  Installing water heaters.  Cabling plugged sewers.  Roughing in new homes.  Fixing leaky faucets.  In winters (which can be brutal in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), we worked on furnaces and boilers.  The hours could be long, and the work was, at times, brutally hard.

That's where I came from.  I worked hard in school and out of school.  I bused tables at a local fish fry for several years as an undergraduate.  In school, I tutored in the university's writing center.  And, of course, I taught as a graduate student.  Taught and studied.  Studied and taught.  I was lucky.  I got out of school with three-and-a-half degrees (a BA, Master's, and MFA--I never finished my PhD) and absolutely no student debt.

Since getting married, I've worked in hospitals and book stores, medical offices and a children's museum.  Of course, there's always been teaching.  Over twenty years of teaching.  These days, I have a full-time job at an outpatient surgery center, and I'm a contingent professor of literature and writing.  On the weekends, I play the organ/keyboard at two different churches (Catholic and Methodist).

If you're getting the impression that I work a lot, you're right.  If you're thinking that I'm frequently tired, you would also be right.  That's the way I was brought up.  Hard, honest work,  Judging by the poem below, Martin Espada knows about hard work, too.

Oh, and Saint Marty is running a two-mile race tomorrow morning, just for fun.

Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

by:  Martin Espada

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.
Then the glue would sting,
hands oozing
till both palms burned
at the punchclock.

Ten years later, in law school,
I knew that every legal pad
was glued with the sting of hidden cuts,
that every open lawbook
was a pair of hands
upturned and burning.

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