“Language Current”: Latino and Chicano poets from the 1980s and 1990s

El jardín de sueños_The garden of dreams_by Chicana artist Judithe Hernández (born 1948, Los Angeles)

El jardín de sueños_The garden of dreams_by Chicana artist Judithe Hernández (born 1948, Los Angeles)

Gioconda Belli

(born 1948, Managua, Nicaragua / Los Angeles, California, USA)



I’m not acquainted with it, yet.

But, so far,

all over the world,

women have survived it.

Perhaps it was that our grandmothers were stoic

or that, back then, no one entitled them to complain,

still they reached old age

with wilted bodies

but strong souls.

Now, instead,

dissertations are written on the subject.

At age thirty the sorrow begins,

the premonition of catastrophe.


A body is much more than the sum of its hormones.

Menopausal or not

a woman remains a woman,

beyond the production of secretions or eggs.

To miss a period does not imply the loss of syntax

or coherence;

it shouldn’t lead to hiding

as a snail in a shell,

nor provoke endless brooding.

If depression sets in

it won’t be a new occurrence,

each menstrual cycle has come to us with tears

and its load of irrational anger.

There is no reason, then,

to feel devalued:

Get rid of tampons

and sanitary napkins!

Use them to light a bonfire in your garden!

Be naked

Dance the ritual of aging

And survive it,

as we all shall.

. . .

Rafael Campo

(born 1964, Dover, New Jersey, USA)

The Return


He doesn’t know it yet, but when my father

and I return there, it will be forever.

His antihypertensives thrown away,

his briefcase in the attic left to waste,

the football game turned off – he’s snoring now,

he doesn’t even dream it, but I know

I’ll carry him the way he carried me

when I was small: In 2023,

my father’s shrunken, eight-five years old,

weighs ninety pounds, a little dazed but thrilled

that Castro’s long been dead, his son impeached!

He doesn’t know it, dozing on the couch

across the family room from me, but this

is what I’ve dreamed of giving him, just this.

And as I carry him upon my shoulders,

triumphant strides across a beach so golden

I want to cry, that’s when he sees for sure,

he sees he’s needed me for all these years.

He doesn’t understand it yet, but when

I give him Cuba, he will love me then.

. . .

Sandra Cisneros

(Chicana, born 1954, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Tango for the Broom


I would like to be a poet if

I had my life to do over again.

I would like to dance with the broom,

or sweep the kitchen as I am


sweeping it today and imagine

my broom is a handsome

black-haired tango man whose

black hair scented with Tres Flores

oil is as shiny as his

black patent leather shoes.


Or, I would like to be a poet laundress

washing sheets and towels,

pulling them hot and twisted

from the dryer, wrapping


myself in the warmth of

clean towels, clean sheets,

folding my work into soft towers,

satisfied. So much done in a day!


Or, I would like to be a poet eating soup

today because my throat hurts. Putting

big spoonfuls of hot soup

into my big fat mouth.

. . .

It occurs to me I am the creative / destructive goddess Coatlicue


I deserve stones.

Better leave me the hell alone.


I am besieged.

I cannot feed you.

You may not souvenir my bones,

knock on my door, camp, come in,

telephone, take my Polaroid. I’m paranoid,

I tell you. Lárguense. Scram.

Go home.


I am anomaly. Rare she who

can’t stand kids and can’t stand you.

No excellent Cordelia cordiality have I.

No coffee served in tidy cups.

No groceries in the house.


I sleep to excess,

smoke cigars,

drink. Am at my best

wandering undressed,

my fingernails dirty,

my hair a mess.



sorry, Madame isn’t

feeling well today.


Greta Garbo.

Pull an Emily D.

Roil like Jean Rhys.

Abiquiu myself.

Throw a Maria Callas.

Shut myself like a shoe.


Stand back. Christ

almighty. I’m warning.

Do not. Keep

out. Beware.

Help! Honey,

this means


. . .

Judith Ortíz Cofer

(born 1952, Hormigueros, Puerto Rico / Georgia, USA)

The Tip


Just days before the crash

that killed him, my father

lost the tip of his index finger

while working on the same vehicle

that would take him away.


I recall my mother’s scream

that brought me out of Mann’s

The Magic Mountain,

and to the concrete drive

now sprinkled in crimson.

His stunned look

is what has stayed with me.

Shock that part of him could take leave

without permission or warning.

He was a man who hated surprises,

who lined his clothes and shoes

like a platoon he inspected daily,

and taught us to suspect the future.

His was the stranger in a strange land’s fear

of not knowing, and not having.


After the doctor snipped the raggéd end

of joint and skin like a cigar

and stitched it closed, my father

stared transfixed at the decapitated

finger, as if it had a message for him.

As if he suspected this small betrayal

of his body was just the tip

of chaos rising.

. . .

Carlos Cumpián

(Chicano, born 1953, San Antonio, Texas / Chicago, Illinois, USA)

The Circus


A cougar’s howl blasts

out of brass cornets,

matched by blaring bugles,

thunderous trombones,

plus two marching kettledrums

dum dum dumbing us deaf

as six muscle men carry cudgels,

four women wearing less than

what’s wrapped in ribbon around

their lances bounce freely alongside

13 elephants that line up, turn, mount

and massage each other,

except grey guys one and thirteen

who represent wrinkled

alpha and omega

cosmic pachyderms

possessing the patois of saints

amid the frantic pulse of these

under-the-big-top idiotics.

Puerto Rico Conga Man in Lights_copyright 2011 Carlos Reyes, photographer

Puerto Rico Conga Man in Lights_copyright 2011 Carlos Reyes, photographer


Sandra María Esteves

(Nuyorican / Dominicana, born 1948, The Bronx, New York City, USA)

In the Beginning


In the beginning was the sound

Like the universe exploding

It came, took form, gave life

And was called Conga


And Conga said:

Let there be night and day

And was born el Quinto y el Bajo


And Quinto said: Give me female

There came Campana

And Bajo said: Give me son

There came Bongos


They merged produced force

Maracas y Claves

Chequere y Timbales


¡Qué viva la música!

So it was written

On the skin of the drum


¡Qué viva la gente!

So it was written

In the hearts of the people


¡Qué viva Raza!


So it is written.

. . .

Amor Negro


In our wagon oysters are treasured

Their hard shells clacking against each other

Words that crash into our ears

We cushion them

Cup them gently in our hands

We kiss and suck the delicate juice

And sculpture flowers from the stone skin

We wash them in the river by moonlight

With offerings of songs

And after the meal we wear them in our hair

And in our eyes.

. . .

Rosario Ferré (1938-2016, Puerto Rico)

Language Current


English is like a nuclear reactor.

I’m in it right now.

As I shoot down its fast track

small bits of skin, fragments, cells

stick to my sides.

Once in a while whole sentences gush forth

and slam themselves against the page

condensing their rapid sprays of pellets

into separate words.

Sometimes I travel in it at 186,000 miles an hour,

the speed of light,

when I lie sleepless on the bed at night.

No excess baggage is allowed.

No playful, baroque tendrils

curling this way and that.

No dreamtime walkabout

all the way down to Australia.

In English you have to know where you’re going:

either towards the splitting of the self

or the blasting of the molecules around you.


Spanish is a very different tongue.

It’s deeper and darker, with so many twists

and turns it makes me feel like I’m navigating

the uterus. Shards of gleaming stone,

emerald, amethyst, opal

wink at me as I swim down its moist shaft.

It goes deeper than the English Channel,

all the way down to the birth canal and beyond.

. . .

Leroy Quintana

(born 1944, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA)

Zen – Where I’m From


A good door needs no lock, yet no one can open it.

(Lao Tsu)


You simply have to admire how, immediately after

the twelve-foot-high chainlink fence

crowned with coils of wicked barbed wire was

erected, the fence the City Council voted on

unanimously to guard against anyone ever again,

again breaking into one of the town’s

storage sheds, how immediately after, the

thieves drove up with their welding torches and

stole it!

. . .

What it was like


If you want to know what

it was like, I’ll tell you

what my tío told me:

There was a truckdriver,

Antonio, who could handle a

rig as easily in reverse as

anybody else straight ahead:


Too bad he’s a Mexican was

what my tío said the

Anglos had to say

about that.


And thus the moral:


Where do you begin if

you begin with

if you’re too good it’s too bad?

. . .

Bessy Reyna


Lunch Walk


He came bouncing down the street

heavy body, long hair, jacket and tie

there was an oddness about him

then, as he approached

I heard the sound of maracas

coming from his pockets

was it candy?

I pictured hundreds of multi-coloured sweets

crashing against each other

he, oblivious to the crackling rhythm.


Along Capitol Avenue

our paths crossed

lunch break nearly over.

How can I explain

being late for work

because I was following a man

who sounded like maracas?

Mural on the side wall of El Milagro tortilla makers (founded in 1950 by Raul Lopez)_East Austin, Texas_photograph by J.C. Shea

Mural on the side wall of El Milagro tortilla makers (founded in 1950 by Raul Lopez)_East Austin, Texas_photograph by J.C. Shea


Raúl R. Salinas

(1934-2008, San Antonio/Austin, Texas, USA)

Poema del Nuevo León









favourite restaurant

surrounded by carnitas

y coronas

me pongo a platonear.



en un booth by the bar

Gloria (la waitress

especial) sits smiling

whiling away

minutes before her

shift / swiftly munching

on a bunch of

(what i hope are






Austin, 1986


Frank Romero (born 1940)_Ghost of Evergreen Cemetery (1987)

Frank Romero (born 1940)_Ghost of Evergreen Cemetery (1987)


A Walk through the Campo Santo


i walked through the Campo Santo of my ciudad tonight

visiting friends and relations playmates from childhoods

hurried / lived other mates from capitalist caves request stop

machinery for a while share in the sacred plants spreading the

presence of peace above / beneath the earth birthrights given

up the Spirit rusty nail at the heel locks the jaws locomotive

wheels become meat grinders the plague in the colony gang-

land guns coming and going family feud with his pistol in his

hand jazz trumpets blare flares catch the glimmer of the gun

running partner my blood of no more sounds no smoke-em-

stickpins in the skin pop poisonous veins 12 gauge shotgun

in the mouth scattered brains become wall designs life left

dangling on the old homestead backyard live oak tree elders

those who checked out caught the bus all on they own / popos

and grandpas grandmother gabriela dead not dead bracing up

temper the steel softening of the machine priestly eulogies

She Gave Birth to a Nation! an indio poet smiles and matriar-

chal voices set the tone as six generations sheep lonely in their

assimilation slump on cold, wooden church pews scratching

they heads wonder what it was the preacher meant bent on

knee i honour primos y tías compas & comrades shoulder to

shoulder laid out beneath caliche stones on sacred ground

i walked through the campo santo of my ciudad tonight.


Austin, 1989

. . .

Gary Soto

(born 1952, Chicano, San Joaquin Valley/Fresno, California, USA)

The Essay Examination for what You have read in the Course “World Religions”


From his cross Jesus said, Sit up straight,

And Buddha said, Go ahead and laugh, big boy,

And although no god, Gandhi said, Do onto others…

The last one didn’t seem right. I re-licked my pencil

And looked out the classroom window – two dudes smoking joints,

Yukking it up while I was taking a timed exam.

I noticed a stray dog nosing a paper bag,

Which prompted me to look down at my feet –

My own lunch bag with three greasy splotches.

That was Pavlov, the reaction thing.

And at any moment I could start salivating.

I returned to my exam. I had to concentrate

And wrote, Zoroastrianism was a powerful religion

In a powerful time. Of Taoism, I wrote,

The split personality made you more friends.

I liked my progress. I looked out the window again –

The two hippie dudes now petting the dog

And blowing smoke into its furry face. I wrote:

Confucius was a good guy who stroked his whiskers.

I stalled here. The last part didn’t seem right,

And it didn’t seem right that our teacher

Should be reading the sports page while we suffered.

I got back to work. Who was Shiva?

When did Shinto start? Why did the roofs of the pagodas

Swing upward? The rubbings from my eraser snowed

To the floor and my tongue was black as plague.

The clock ate up the hour. The teacher put down

His newspaper and said, You’ve been good students.

After class I went around to see the hippie dudes,

Now passed out against the wall. The dog lay

Between them, also snoozing, the joint smouldering

Next to his furry face. Unlike Gandhi

I didn’t have much to say on the matter,

I opened my lunch bag with no judgement, no creed,

No French philosophical nada. I ate

A hog of a burrito and then the ancient, mealy fruit,

The apple of our first sin.

. . .

Gloria Vando

(Puerto Rico/New York City, USA)

HE 2-104: A True Planetary Nebula in the Making


On the universal clock, Sagan tells us,

we are only moments old. And this

new crab-like discovery in Centaurus,

though older by far, is but

an adolescent going through a vital

if brief stage in the evolution

of interacting stars. I see it

starting its sidereal trek

through midlige, glowingly complex –

a pulsating red giant: with a “small

hot companion” in tow – and think

of you and me that night in August

speeding across Texas in your red

Mustang convertible, enveloped in dust

and fumes, aiming for a motel bed,

settling instead for the backseat of the car,

arms and legs flailing in all directions,

but mostly toward heaven – and now

this cool red dude winking at me

through the centuries as if to say

I know, I know, sidling in closer

to his sidekick, shedding his garments,

shaking off dust, encircling

her small girth with a high-density

lasso of himself, high-velocity

sparks shooting from her ringed

body like crazy legs and arms until

at last, he’s got his hot companion

in a classic hold and slowly,

in ecstasy, they take wing and

blaze as one across the Southern skies –

no longer crab but butterfly.

. . .

The above poems were featured in the 1997 anthology El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry, edited by Martín Espada.

. . . . .