At the 2010 Latino Art Now! conference in Los Angeles it hit me — the nagging feeling that Latino artists and poets aren’t meaningfully aware of one another, or of the canvases and poems that flourish in their respective fields. It left me wondering: How might we aspire to bridge this gap?

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Night Magic (Blue Jester), 1988, by Carlos Almaraz

Night Magic (Blue Jester)

After Federico García Lorca

Blue that I love you
Blue that I hate you
Fat blue in the face
Disgraced blue that I erase
You lone blue
Blue of an alien race
Strong blue eternally graced
Blue that I know you
Blue that I choose you...

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I’d come to help settle your
mother’s affairs. On the last night,

we ate where she worked all
her life. Now that she’s gone,

you said, I’ll never come back.

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Night Magic (Blue Jester), 1988, by Carlos Almaraz


Considering Myrna Báez’s painting Platanal, E. Carmen Ramos explains, “When Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony, artists like Francisco Oller depicted the plantain as both a key accoutrement to the jibaro (rural peasant) and a metaphor for the island’s independent cultural identity.”

Plantain trees gather at the edge
of the orchard, clamor for light

in the foreground. They seem to grow
as one, as if they’d fill the field...

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Radiante, 1967, by Olga Albizu

Radiante (s)

Jestered ochre yellow my umber Rothko divisions my Brooklyns with Jerry Stern black then oranged gold leaf & tiny skulls perforations Dada sugar bread of Oaxacan ecstasy Lorca’s green horse the daffodil head corruptions of the State in tenor exhalation saxophonics blossomings rouged monkey Dalí roll down the keys the high G’s underStreets of the undeRealms my hair.

Throttle up into hyper-city correlations =


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Placa/Rollcall, by Charles “Chaz” Bojórquez


If the city was a body, graffiti would tell us where it hurts.
— Charles “Chaz” Bojórquez

And this block would shout, “Nos diste un chingaso, cabrón. Mira esta cara rota...

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Why Being “On Fire” Is for Everyone

Because the facial features burn fastest.

Because the sun sets in Tibet before it ever rises in the West.

Because Tsering Tashi’s mother told him to dress in the thickest, 
finest, llama wool chuba.

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<em>Larry Levan (snake)</em>, 2006, by Elia Alba

Larry Levan (snake)

Hip hip hip hip hip makes the man
as the conga, serpentine,
slides across the frame

and the disco dub — tilt and sway — 
sewing pelves in the room,
as if  Larry, still,

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<em>Granite Weaving</em>, 1988, by Jesús Moroles

Granite Weaving

To climb, in this instance, upon a horizon

Shadow-shadow. Lip-to-lip rock.

Ziggurat. Ah, from the base to the top.

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Weaving Granite

“He” grates across the throat, the “h” a dry abrasion on the tongue —

Across the throat, the “h” in “she” is tucked behind the folded muscle.

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<em>À La Mode</em>, 1976, by Asco (photographer: Harry Gamboa, Jr.)

A Chingona Plays Miss Dinah Brand

I dare you to hear me
tell just which and what
sort of girl I was, always
had been, and why. You
may as well yes-yes me.

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<em>Untitled</em>, 1965, by Alberto Valdés

Field of Moving Colors Layered

I’m not easily mesmerized.

But how can you not be drawn in by swirls,

angles and whorls brought together to obey

a field of moving colors layered, muted    ...

others bright that make you linger


Just look at those Carpaccio reds.

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<em>El Patio de Mi Casa</em>, 1990, by María Brito

El Patio de Mi Casa

My patio was once a schoolyard, or maybe a barracoon, perhaps both, & the ghosts of children nest under the pink sink, mouths agape for flakes of rust, or they creep to the ceiling, sucking on the five taps of blue water, their little lips abuzz like cicadas. In the moonlight I see them bounce on my feather bed, bowed like an old donkey’s back, or they teeter-totter in my wicker chair darned with burlap string. Leave them alone, I say to my mother, who wants to cleanse the house with carvacrol, trapping these children’s souls in beehives, then stringing them up with kites so they fly to the moon...

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<em>Sin Título, </em>from the series <em>The Tempest</em>, 1998, by Arturo Rodríguez

Altar Boy

I am the altar boy with feet flattened by the catechist’s paddle, my skin toasted like stalks of sugarcane at Lent, my shorts baptized in the salt pans of saints. I don’t wear a mask (God hates carnival) but a wool hood, Holy Week’s, that Sister Rose knitted by the charcoal altar, her wooden teeth clacking as she hymned in Latin, the moles on her jowl like prickly pears for penance. My own teeth are those grates that grilled the martyrs, & my little lamb’s ears quiver each afternoon when the wind coughs in fits and pale skies smoke with incense from a clandestine Mass...

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<em>Decoy Gang War Victim</em>, 1974, by Asco (photographer: Harry Gamboa, Jr.)

Decoy Gang War Victim

For Harry Gamboa, Jr.

Just a tick ago, the actor was a Roman candle

shot to the sky, smudged by rain’s helter-

skelter. His motivation was: he’s a stooge...

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<em>¿Sólo una sombra?/Only a Shadow (Ester IV)?</em>, from the series <em>Santos y sombras/ Saints and Shadows</em>, 1993-1994, by Muriel Hasbun

Only a Shadow

My daughter gathers the seeds she finds in our desert, calls them

spirits — the spirits are us, she says when I worry those orbs in my fingers


to conjure her birth. The wind’s first thought is to craft those seeds:

vessels when the tree worries she’s not enough of a multiplicity,

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<em>Humanscape 62</em>, 1970, by Melesio Casas

Brownies of the Southwest:
Troop 704

Three years before I’d hear the word / beaner /

from the / white boys / who’d spit first in my broccoli,

then in my hair, / my mother / dressed me

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<em>Breakfast Tacos</em>, from the series <em>Seven Days</em>, 2003, by Chuck Ramirez

Last Meal: Breakfast Tacos, San Antonio, Tejas

Let me be your last meal.
Let me harvest the notes
I took from your mother’s
watery hands, street vendors
in Rome, Ms. Rosie
from our taquería, you:

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More from this issue

These poems originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

Jeff Zimmermann, "Love Knot," 2015

All images courtesy of and with permission from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Night Magic (Blue Jester) by Carlos Almaraz, gift of Gloria Werner © 1988, Carlos Almaraz Estate. Nocturnal (Horizon Line) by Teresita Fernández, museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 2010, Teresita Fernández. Platanal by Myrna Báez, gift of  Jaime Fonalledas. Radiante by Olga Albizu, gift of   JPMorgan Chase. Placa/Rollcall by Charles “Chaz” Bojórquez, gift of the artist. Untitled, from the Silueta series by Ana Mendieta, museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool and the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program © 1980, Estate of Ana Mendieta. Man on Fire by Luis Jiménez, gift of Philip Morris Incorporated © 1969, Luis Jiménez. Larry Levan (snake) by Elia Alba, museum purchase made possible by William W.W. Parker © 2006, Elia Alba. Granite Weaving by Jesús Moroles, gift of Frank K. Ribelin. À La Mode by Asco (photographer: Harry Gamboa, Jr.), museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 1976, Harry Gamboa, Jr. Untitled by Alberto Valdés, gift of David and Susan Valdés. Humane Borders Water Station by Delilah Montoya, gift of the Gilberto Cárdenas Latino Art Collection © 2004, Delilah Montoya. El Patio de Mi Casa by María Brito, museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program © 1991, María Brito. Sin Título, from the series The Tempest by Arturo Rodríguez, gift of Liza and Pedro J. Martinez-Fraga. Decoy Gang War Victim by Asco (photographer: Harry Gamboa, Jr.), museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 1974, Harry Gamboa, Jr. ¿Sólo una sombra?/Only a Shadow (Ester IV)?, from the series Santos y sombras/Saints and Shadows by Muriel Hasbun, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Moore © 1994, Muriel Hasbun. Humanscape 62 by Melesio Casas, museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 1970, the Casas Family. Breakfast Tacos, from the series Seven Days by Chuck Ramirez, museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment © 2003, Estate of Charles Ramirez.



Originally Published: February 26th, 2016

Poet, translator, essayist, editor, and San Francisco native Francisco Aragón studied Spanish at the University of California at Berkeley and New York University. He earned an MA from the University of California at Davis and an MFA from the University of Notre Dame. Exploring how language and genre both connect and...

Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In