Richard Blanco continues the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in this latest edition of “Village Voice.” From the living cultures of bodegas, to Spider-Man in Times Square, to coming of age in a Mexican family, these poems highlight the nuances of what it means to be Hispanic, a hyphenated-American.
Tune in for the conversation and read along with the poems listed below.
“The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica”
by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Presiding over a formica counter,
plastic Mother and Child magnetized
to the top of an ancient register,
the heady mix of smells from the open bins
of dried codfish, the green plantains
hanging in stalks like votive offerings,
she is the Patroness of Exiles,
a woman of no-age who was never pretty,
who spends her days selling canned memories
while listening to the Puerto Ricans complain
that it would be cheaper to fly to San Juan
than to buy a pound of Bustelo coffee here,
and to Cubans perfecting their speech
of a “glorious return” to Havana–where no one
has been allowed to die and nothing to change until then;
to Mexicans who pass through, talking lyrically
of dólares to be made in El Norte–
all wanting the comfort
of spoken Spanish, to gaze upon the family portrait
of her plain wide face, her ample bosom
resting on her plump arms, her look of maternal interest
as they speak to her and each other
of their dreams and their disillusions–
how she smiles understanding,
when they walk down the narrow aisles of her store
reading the labels of packages aloud, as if
they were the names of lost lovers; Suspiros,
Merengues, the stale candy of everyone’s childhood.
She spends her days
slicing jamón y queso and wrapping it in wax paper
tied with string: plain ham and cheese
that would cost less at the A&P, but it would not satisfy
the hunger of the fragile old man lost in the folds
of his winter coat, who brings her lists of items
that he reads to her like poetry, or the others,
whose needs she must divine, conjuring up products
from places that now exist only in their hearts–
closed ports she must trade with.
Hearing Spider-Man Speaking Spanish in Times Square
by Ariel Francisco
Peter Parker has really packed on the pounds
but still the children approach him excitedly
asking for a picture, their parents holding up
their cameras with cash in hand as Spider-Man says
claro, claro, motioning them over. Maybe
it’s something about the mask that makes it ok.
No echo in a photo, no accent, no remnant of identity,
no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is Spider-Man.
Without the mask he would be harrassed,
told to speak English, told to go back to where
he came from, wherever that might be. But here
in the red and blue, under the neon and noise,
he’s the hero for a few dollars, constantly reminded
of the importance of keeping his secret identity.
“Suspended from School, the Pachuco’s Grandson Watches Happy Days While His Homie Fulfills Prophecy”
by Michael Torres
All morning I’ve searched for my grandfather
in zoot suit pants like two pairs of parentheses,
in case he happens to be walking across Arnold’s
drive-thru. I like to think he could’ve went anywhere
then. The whole gang bores me though. I don’t know anyone
like Richie or the Fonz, who isn’t as hard as he thinks.
It’s something with the thumbs up and that leather jacket
everyone respects or fears. All my heroes are my homeboys
who move through the impermanence of their day.
Right now, Mr. Apell is calling one of my homies
to the board to solve for X because he thinks it was
my homie who yelled out “Mr. Apple.” My homie,
who knows the answer is 7 and -7 will take the chalk
and draw an apple, its stem and one leaf before walking out
of Pre-Algebra forever. My heroes are good at their getaways
and not saying goodbye. My grandfather used to say
it was all about balance. Being Mexican on one side.
White on the other. He invented tightrope walking
through the streets of Los Angeles and sold his secrets
to the circus. I read history books, but don’t say anything.
They called my grandfather Pancho, they called him
Wetback. We are on the page they didn’t print.
I never met him. I don’t know if he was ever there.
I just wanted to use my head like my hands and break away.
Right now Richie and the gang are in trouble. Someone
fucked up. But it won’t last. I’ve seen this one. Right now
no one is stopping my homie. I don’t know if I would I have.
And I have to remember that. Fonzi laughs and everybody
joins. I don’t know why. They don’t either, I think. Credits roll.
The outro plays. My homie jumps the fence by the track,
by where the ice cream man parks after school,
and the links rattle behind him.
This episode of “Village Voice” first aired on Boston Public Radio on October 13th, 2021.
(Photo by Pablo Rebolledo)