Martín Espada

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Does historical background aid your understanding of Espada's "Bully"? How does the imagery evolve? What words stand out and what messages do they convey?

In the school auditorium,
the Theodore Roosevelt statue
is nostalgic
for the Spanish-American war
each fist lonely for a saber,
or the reins of anguish-eyed horses,
or a podium to clatter with speeches
glorying in the malaria of conquest.

But now the Roosevelt school
is pronounced Hernandez.
Puerto Rico has invaded Roosevelt
with its army of Spanish-singing children
in the hallways,
brown children devouring
the stockpiles of the cafeteria,
children painting Taino ancestors
that leap naked across murals.

Roosevelt is surrounded
by all the faces
he ever shoved in eugenic spite
and cursed as mongrels, skin of one race,
hair and cheekbones of another.

Once Marines tramped
from the newsreel of his imagination;
now children plot to spray graffiti
in parrot-brilliant colors
across the Victorian mustache
and monocle.

Expert Answers

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I think that this poem is interesting, and it uses history in a unique way. The imagery of war is juxtaposed with the sounds of the poem. You do have to have a background in understanding the events described. I think the poem would make a great supplement to a history lesson on Roosevelt. The poem does not stay in that period. It looks back on Roosevelt at first, and then brings us to reality at the end, and what really happened in Roosevelt's wake.

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