NEA Literature Fellowships

David Tomas Martinez

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(2017 - Poetry)

"The Only Mexican"

The only Mexican that ever was Mexican, fought in the revolution
and drank nightly, and like all machos, crawled into work crudo,

letting his breath twirl, then clap and sing before sandpaper
juiced the metal. The only Mexican to never sit in a Catholic pew

was born on Halloween, and ate his lunch wrapped in foil against
the fence with the other Mexicans. They fixed old Fords where my

grandfather worked for years, him and the welder Juan wagered
each year on who would return first to the Yucatan. Neither did.

When my aunts leave, my dad paces the living room and then rests,
like a jaguar who once drank rain off the leaves of Cecropia trees,

but now caged, bends his paw on a speaker to watch crowds pass.
He asks me to watch grandpa, which means, for the day; in town

for two weeks, I have tried my best to avoid this. Many times he will swear,
and many times grandpa will ask to get in and out of bed, want a sweater,

he will ask the time, he will use the toilet, frequently ask for beer,
about dinner, when the Padres play, por que no novelas, about bed.

He will ask about his house, grandma, to sit outside, he will question
while answering, he will smirk, he will invent languages while tucked in bed.

He will bump the table, tap the couch, he will lose his slipper, wedging it in
the wheel of his chair, like a small child trapped in a well, everyone will care.

He will cry without tears – a broken carburetor of sobs. When I speak
Spanish, he shakes his head, and reminds me, he is the only Mexican.

David Tomas Martinez's debut collection of poetry, Hustle, was released in 2014 by Sarabande Books, winning the New England Book Festival's prize in poetry, the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award, and honorable mention in the Antonio Cisneros Del Moral Prize. He is the 2015 winner of the Verlaine Poetry Prize. Martinez is a Pushcart winner, CantoMundo fellow, and a recipient of the Stanley P. Young Fellowship from Broadleaf. A second collection is forthcoming from Sarabande Books in 2018. Martinez lives in Brooklyn. 

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Art Talk with David Tomas Martinez

Podcast with David Thomas Martinez

Author's Statement

At its best, poetry is the sound of a boot tumbling down stairs from the third floor. The subconscious is a haunting recorded clearest in the stanza. What is more saturated than the mind? What better to catch its thumping than the poem? We live in the age of the concentrated, the multifunctional peripheral. It is only fitting that poetry should be in a golden age. At this moment more people have studied poetry, at a deeper level, than ever before. I think that reflects nicely on our generation. It was true when Whitman wrote it and it is even truer today, “there was never any more inception than there is now.” I’m truly fortunate to take my place among the bevy of inspiring writers the 2017 NEA grants recognize. Let our link in the coffle of history be truly extraordinary. Onward ho-mies!