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The Latin Deli

Prose and Poetry

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Publication Year: 2010

Reviewing her novel, The Line of the Sun, the New York Times Book Review hailed Judith Ortiz Cofer as "a writer of authentic gifts, with a genuine and important story to tell." Those gifts are on abundant display in The Latin Deli, an evocative collection of poetry, personal essays, and short fiction in which the dominant subject—the lives of Puerto Ricans in a New Jersey barrio—is drawn from the author's own childhood. Following the directive of Emily Dickinson to "tell all the Truth but tell it slant," Cofer approaches her material from a variety of angles.

An acute yearning for a distant homeland is the poignant theme of the title poem, which opens the collection. Cofer's lines introduce us "to a woman of no-age" presiding over a small store whose wares—Bustelo coffee, jamon y queso, "green plantains hanging in stalks like votive offerings"—must satisfy, however imperfectly, the needs and hungers of those who have left the islands for the urban Northeast. Similarly affecting is the short story "Nada," in which a mother's grief over a son killed in Vietnam gradually consumes her. Refusing the medals and flag proferred by the government ("Tell the Mr. President of the United States what I say: No, gracias."), as well as the consolations of her neighbors in El Building, the woman begins to give away all her possessions The narrator, upon hearing the woman say "nada," reflects, "I tell you, that word is like a drain that sucks everything down."

As rooted as they are in a particular immigrant experience, Cofer's writings are also rich in universal themes, especially those involving the pains, confusions, and wonders of growing up. While set in the barrio, the essays "American History," "Not for Sale," and "The Paterson Public Library" deal with concerns that could be those of any sensitive young woman coming of age in America: romantic attachments, relations with parents and peers, the search for knowledge. And in poems such as "The Life of an Echo" and "The Purpose of Nuns," Cofer offers eloquent ruminations on the mystery of desire and the conflict between the flesh and the spirit.

Cofer's ambitions as a writer are perhaps stated most explicitly in the essay "The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria." Recalling one of her early poems, she notes how its message is still her mission: to transcend the limitations of language, to connect "through the human-to-human channel of art."

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following magazines in which some of the works in this book first appeared, sometimes in slightly different versions or under different titles: ...

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica

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pp. 3-4

From the Book of Dreams in Spanish: Stories and Poems

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pp. 5-6

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American History

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pp. 7-15

I once read in a Ripley's Believe It or Not column that Paterson, New Jersey, is the place where the Straight and Narrow (streets) intersect. The Puerto Rican tenement known as El Building was one block up from Straight. It was, in fact, the corner of Straight and Market; not "at" the corner, but the corner. ...

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Not for Sale

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pp. 16-21

El Arabe was what the Puerto Rican women called him. He sold them beautiful things from his exotic homeland in the afternoons, at that hour when the day's work is done and there is a little time before the evening duties. He did not carry anything men would buy. His merchandise, mostly linens, was impractical but exquisite. ...

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Twist and Shout

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pp. 22-23

It's 1967, summer, and I'm as restless as all of America. The Beatles are inundating the airwaves in our apartment building, drowning out our parents' salsas. My mother has left me alone to keep an eye on the red kidney beans boiling for dinner, while she goes to the bodega for oregano or some other ingredient she needs. ...

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By Love Betrayed

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pp. 24-27

As a little girl I imagined my father was a genie that came out of a magic bottle at night. It was a green bottle of cologne that he splashed on his face before leaving the house. I thought it was the strong smell that made my mother cry. ...

From "Some Spanish Verbs"

Orar: To Pray

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pp. 28-

Dividir: To Divide

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pp. 29-30

Respirar: To Breathe

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pp. 31-

Volar: To Fly

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pp. 32-

An Early Mystery

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pp. 33-34

Fever

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pp. 35-

The Lesson of the Sugarcane

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pp. 36-

A Legion of Dark Angels

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pp. 37-

The Changeling

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pp. 38-

Absolution in the New Year

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pp. 39-40

From the Book of Dreams in Spanish

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pp. 41-

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The Witch's Husband

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pp. 42-49

My grandfather has misplaced his words again. He is trying to find my name in the kaleidoscope of images that his mind has become. His face brightens like a child's who has just remembered his lesson. He points to me and says my mother's name. I smile back and kiss him on the cheek. ...

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Nada

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pp. 50-60

Almost as soon as Dona Ernestina got the telegram about her son's having been killed in Vietnam, she started giving her possessions away. At first we didn't realize what she was doing. By the time we did, it was too late. ...

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Letter from a Caribbean Island

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pp. 61-62

Last night the old man who lived in the cabin next to mine found what he came for. As I told you in my last letter, he was here in Boqueron, trying to spot dolphins. At first I thought he was senile or crazy. But every night after the beach cleared of people, he would sit under the lamppost, sketching on a pad. ...

Guard Duty

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pp. 63-64

The Purpose of Nuns

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pp. 65-66

The Game

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pp. 67-68

The Lesson of the Teeth

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pp. 69-

They Never Grew Old

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pp. 70-71

Nothing Wasted

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pp. 72-73

Women Who Love Angels

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pp. 74-

To Grandfather, Now Forgetting

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pp. 75-77

My Grandfather's Hat

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pp. 78-

Blood

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pp. 79-

The Life of an Echo

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pp. 80-

Juana: An Old Story

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pp. 81-

The Campesino's Lament

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pp. 82-

Las Magdalenas

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pp. 83-

Olga

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pp. 84-

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Dear Joaquin

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pp. 85-86

This may never reach your hands. It is unlikely that it will. With your mama watching her nest like a jealous hen and Rosaura keeping you drugged with sex and her witch's brews. You are lucky if you still know your name, much less remember me, the woman who truly loves you. Joaquin, I wait for you in America. ...

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Lydia

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pp. 87-

I haven't seen her in twenty years—then she swoops down among the relatives in black for my father's funeral. Lydia tells me she has found God in New York City. I see that she wears no makeup, her skirt covers her knees. She holds a Bible like a small black purse on her lap. ...

Vida

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pp. 88-89

Paciencia

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pp. 90-

Old Women

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pp. 91-92

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Corazón's Café

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pp. 93-116

Corazon knew that she should go back to the apartment now. It was after closing time, and soon the street would be deserted. But she felt less alone here in the cafe, among the shelves that she and Manuel had stocked together, than she did in their apartment. ...

The Medium's Burden: Other Narratives and Poems

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pp. 117-118

How to Get a Baby

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pp. 119-

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Advanced Biology

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pp. 120-129

As I lay out my clothes for the trip to Miami to do a reading from my recently published novel, then on to Puerto Rico to see my mother, I take a close look at my travel wardrobe—the tailored skirts in basic colors easily coordinate with my silk blouses—I have to smile to myself, ...

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The Paterson Public Library

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pp. 130-134

It was a Greek temple in the ruins of an American city. To get to it I had to walk through neighborhoods where not even the carcasses of rusted cars on blocks nor the death traps of discarded appliances were parted with, so that the yards of the borderline poor, people who lived not in a huge building, as I did, but in their own decrepit little houses, ...

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The Story of My Body

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pp. 135-146

I was born a white girl in Puerto Rico but became a brown girl when I came to live in the United States. My Puerto Rican relatives called me tall; at the American school, some of my rougher classmates called me Skinny Bones, and the Shrimp because I was the smallest member of my classes all through grammar school until high school, ...

The Chameleon

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pp. 147-

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The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named María

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pp. 148-154

On a bus trip to London from Oxford University where I was earning some graduate credits one summer, a young man, obviously fresh from a pub, spotted me and as if struck by inspiration went down on his knees in the aisle. With both hands over his heart he broke into an Irish tenor's rendition of "Maria" from West Side Story. ...

Saint Rose of Lima

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pp. 155-156

Counting

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pp. 157-

Unspoken

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pp. 158-

Who Will Not Be Vanquished?

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pp. 159-161

Hostages to Fortune

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pp. 162-

To a Daughter I Cannot Console

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pp. 163-

Anniversary

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pp. 164-165

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5:00 A.M.: Writing as Ritual

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pp. 166-168

An act of will that changed my life from that of a frustrated artist, waiting to have a room of my own and an independent income before getting down to business, to that of a working writer: I decided to get up two hours before my usual time, to set my alarm for 5:00 A.M. ...

The Medium's Burden

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pp. 169-170


E-ISBN-13: 9780820342719
E-ISBN-10: 0820336211
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820342719

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2010

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