An Anthology of
Afro-Latin@ Poets*

Melissa Castillo-Garsow

(Arte Público)
This one is hefty - - - over 400 pages, 200+plus poems, forty poets. Filled to bursting with love, and pride, and hope, and no small measure of singing and dancing and bongo music. Among this burst of good feelings there are a few yelps of outright hostility, aimed at the world, the Spaniards (who wiped out the Taínos), the honkies (who continue to enmesh them), those who wage the wars, those who ignore the culture, those who police them daily.

Yet above and beyond this, it's Boricua blues, and monfongo, and Latin jazz, with Black Boogie - - - and afro-taíno riffs, with merengue feet and garabatopandegato pan and

    how many gods/do you know/that can fly/Quetzalcoatl
    & his feathers/polished teeth/& scales
    flew to Cholula/insisting on something jeweled/& grand
    got/the largest pyramid in the world/to show
    gathered himself
    & let everyone kiss/his wing
    every mouth/wanting
    a piece /of the god of/
    the morning star/everyone's

So writes Ariana Brown

And here nested 2/3rds way through we find an old friend, one of our favorites from long ago, Miguel Piñero, with his blues lost love riff, the redoubtable mexicana rose

    con piel de canela
    pelo darker than bustelo café
    eyes big like rellenos
    color of a ripe avocado
    her lips tasted like seasoned mangos and her body was sweet as coconut milk

But Juanita Rosita Esposita is - - - after a "heated chilly pepper tequila fight" - - -

    left me like a burnt pork chop
    for a chitlin' hamhock buckwheat eatin' man
    who wore a watermelon wallet &
    a collard green conversation
    disturbing my macho machete pride

Which has to be one of the great mementos to interracial interloving intercultural heart-loss tales as good as the best of all time.

§   §   §

Most gabacho critics would say that this collection could have been halved by savaging parts of the page-after-page rants, but to those of us who are part of this passion of pride and pride of passion, plus the music of it all: well, we'd be the last to complain.

There are some special treats riding long here, hidden among the burrs nested in the saddle, including "music of/accents/'or else'"/end up at the bottom of the sea/busy trying to get born" (Adrián Castro).

    We did nothing
    to stop their singing
    Fed their dreams
    the white meat of the
    manipulate their mouths
    watch them eat the pulp
    the color of our nightmare's skin
(Jane Alberdeston Coralin).


I know your mama didn't/need me? She told me/plenty of times/it was so I'm 6' 2"/and black; never been scared of anything, 'cept/your mama. That little lady/could raise a country/raise hell,/raise me right out of the ground/if she could. (Ariana Brown)


    But, "r," little propeller
    of my name, small & beautiful monster
    changing shapes, you win . . .
    you are the sound of cars racing, the sound
    of bicycle spokes fitted with playing cards
    to make it sound like we are going fast,
    this is our ode to you, little "r"

(Aracelis Girmay).

And most of all, the rare ode to those master artists who give their all, sometimes their freedom, to beautify the bleak blank walls of city freeways, signs, buses, shopfronts, the drab public housing and backgrounds to all of our asphalt citified lives,

    we are the ghetto picassos
    the modern-day matisses
    the artistic shakespeares
    that tear white walls in half
    we are the street canvas killers
    with one quick splat
    of an ultra flat black
    with silver outlines
    & yellow highlights, perfected
    during 3 a.m. night skylines (Bonafide Rojas).
--- Carlos Amantea
*The cover of this volume sports a blurb from the august American Library Association's Booklist:
"¡Manteca!, like its English translation, 'butter,' will melt delectably in the mind,
creating flavors and nuances to ponder again and again."
Well, we're not too sure which Spanish language dictionary
the reviewer consulted, perhaps one strictly from hunger . . .
but for those of us who lived hard-scrabble lives in the former lands
of the taínos, manteca ain't nothing but plain old-fashioned white-goo lard.
Jammed together with a risible metaphor
(lard melting "delectably in the mind" - - - 'allo?)
we're thinking that the editor of ¡Manteca!
may have stuck the quote there on the cover
as a demonstration that honkies really don't
and never will get the mind-set of those of us
out of this pure Latino macrocosm.

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