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Lydia Cortés reads from Whose Place

Lydia Cortés was a Nuyorican poet before there was a word for it. She and her peers defined and were the definition. Everyone has a mother tongue. Often our mothers teach it to us, what we know of pride and shame, beautiful and ugly, happy and sad, what makes us cry and fear, what comes to our ears as truth, what we learn we learn from the beginning.

In a poem called Ode to Simplicity, Attempted the poet writes:

When I was a kid finding my way through
vast coppices of languages Mami used to ask
if I wanted my milk con chocolate?
o plein?

Sometimes I’d answer Con plain.
A little kid with two little vocabularies.

If there are words, the baby speaks them; if there is silence, the baby is silent. We must learn to speak. Lydia Cortés is fluent in Spanish, Italian and English, and having this facility, she writes about the meaning of words, and their being in us and our being in them. And what they are is who we are, you are, and I am. Whose Place is really a beautiful book. Although it can make us uncomfortable remembering where we’ve come from, if we look back with honesty and say, “That is me,” that is all you, that is all we need.

La Bendición

Never forget to ask
Mami and Papi
for The Blessing
upon leaving home, when returning
Expression of a beneficial wish toward
a loved one, especially to a daughter or son
Protection guaranteed in repetitive utterings
in virtue of the magic power of language
La benedición, Mami?
Que Dios te bendiga, hija
Que Dios te bendiga, nene
Gracias, Mami,
que Dios te bendiga.

In a prose poem called Voces en Familia two little sisters have a little brother who cannot speak or when he speaks, it’s gibberish that only the members of the family can understand. Voces en Familia is a poem story that everyone should read, but if I start to recommend one poem, I will be recommending them all. What language is, what a mother is, what a poem is is what this book is about, for anyone who likes language and a good story to go along with it.

Mi Adorado

The taste sweet
in my nose
the smell of his eyes
the sound green
the touch seen
plump my baby’s feet plump
los labios de mi adorado
their suede persuasions
slide seep into the pores
of my caress
oranges and bacon frying

Whose Place is published by Straw Gate Books. You can check them out here through Small Press Distribution:


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