the sign in my father's hand

By Marin Espada —for Frank Espada The beer company did not hire Blacks or Puerto Ricans, so my father joined the picket line at the Schaefer Beer Pavilion, New York World’s Fair, amid the crowds glaring with canine hostility. But the cops brandished nightsticks and handcuffs to protect the beer, and my father disappeared. In 1964, I had never tasted beer, and no one told me about the picket signs torn in two by the cops of brewery. I knew what dead was: dead was a cat overrun with parasites and dumped in the hallway incinerator. I knew my father was dead. I went mute and filmy-eyed, the slow boy who did not hear the question in school. I sat studying his framed photograph like a mirror, my darker face. Days later, he appeared in the doorway grinning with his gilded tooth. Not dead, though I would come to learn that sometimes Puerto Ricans die in jail, with bruises no one can explain swelling their eyes shut. I would learn too that “boycott” is not a boy’s haircut, that I could sketch a picket line on the blank side of a leaflet. That day my father returned from the netherworld easily as riding the elevator to apartment 14-F, and the brewery cops could only watch in drunken disappointment. I searched my father’s hands for a sign of the miracle.


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