February 14, 2017
On this date in 1952 the late Judith Ortiz Cofer was born. For much of her career she served on the faculty of the University of Georgia. The beloved Southern poet died on December 30, 2016.
Her best work, no doubt, is A Love Story Beginning in Spanish from 2005. Maxine Hong Kingston blurbed, “Judith Ortiz Cofer is a poet whose music pervades my life long after I’ve finished reading. A Love Story Beginning in Spanish inspires me and heartens me.”
Ortiz Cofer’s poetry is a poetry of many voices, often personal, but also projected into voices from acquaintances, original characters, as well as literary characters. In her longer poem, “Sailor’s Wife,” we hear from Homer’s Penelope as she awaits the return of her sailor husband, Odysseus.
Since Major League Baseball’s spring training has begun this month and the baseball season is practically here, I thought I would quote a few lines from “First Job: The Southern Sweets Sandwich Shop and Bakery.” The passage takes us into the country kitchen to meet Margaret:
In the kitchen of the Southern Sweets the black cook,
Margaret, worships at the altar of her Zenith radio. Hank Aaron
is working his way to heaven. She is bone-sticking thin,
despises sweets, loves only her man Hank, Otis Redding,
and a smoke. She winks at me when he connects,
dares to ignore Mr. Raymond when Aaron is up. Mysteriously
the boss-man understands the priority of home runs,
and the sacrilege of speaking ordinary words like my
“triple decker club on a bun with fries” frozen at tongue-tip
when Margaret holds up one bony finger at us, demanding
a little respect for the man at the plate.
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