The Other Alamo

A poem by Martin Espada, recipient of the 2021 National Book Award for poetry, and as published in American War Poetry: An Anthology

In the Crockett Hotel dining room,
a chalk-face man in the medaled uniform
growls at a prayer
at the head of the veteran’s table.
Throughout the map of this saint-hungry city,
hands strain for the touch of shrines,
genuflection before cannon and memorial plaque,
grasping the talisman of Bowie knife replica
at the souvenir shop, visitors
in white biblical quote T-shirts.

The stones in the walls are smaller
than the fists of Texas martyrs;
their cavernous mouths cold drink the canal to mud.
The Daughters of the Republic
print brochures with Mexican demons,
Santa Anna’s leg still hopping
to conjunto accordions.
The lawyers who conquered farmland
by scratching on parchment in an oil lamp haze,
the cotton growers who kept the time
of Mexican peasant lives dangling from their watch chains,
the vigilantes hooded like blind angels
hunting with torches for men the color of night,
gathering at church, the capitol, or the porch
for a century all said this: Alamo.

In 1949, thee boys
in Air Force dress khaki
ignored the whites-only sign
at the diner by the bus station:
A soldier from Baltimore, who heard nigger sung here
more often than his name, but would not glance away;
another blonde and solemn as his Tennessee
of whitewashed spires;
another from distant Puerto Rico, cap tipped at an angle
in a country where brown skin
could be boiled for the leather of a vigilante’s wallet.

The waitress squinted a glare and refused their contamination,
the manager lost his crewcut politeness
and blustered about local customs,
the police, with surrounding faces,
jeered about tacos and senoritas
on the Mexican side of town.
“We’re not leaving,” they said,
and hunched at their stools
till the manager ordered the cook,
sweat-burnished black man, unable to hide his grin,
to slide cheeseburgers on plates
across the counter.
“We’re not hungry,” they said
and left a week’s pay for the cook.
One was my father; his word for fury
is Texas.

This afternoon, the heat clouds the air like bothered gnats.
The lunch counter was wrecked for the dump years ago.
In the newspapers, a report of vandals
scarring the wooden doors
of the Alamo
on the black streaks of fire.

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