Detroit in two tongues

Imagery of a city in past, present and future tense

by

If there's a weakness in Chocolate City Latina, Esperanza Malave Cintron's first collection of poems from a large publisher, it's that the best poems are so well-hewn that weaker ones appear weaker than they really are. A fault of editing, not of the author: At 103 pages, the book feels a bit long. With that caveat, praise goes to the skill, scope and keen imagery Cintron brings. She's a professor of creative writing at Wayne County Community College in Detroit, and it shows in her understated but flawless command of diction:

 

empty men line the road
skewered carcasses
rotting in the sun
carne asada
centuries pass
and the carnivores
stand in line
the mantle of missionaries
severing heads

(from "Inmigracion")

 

The aforementioned "diction" is both English and Spanish. Cintron is Afro-Latina and her poems range in scope from Detroit's old Black Bottom to the shores of Puerto Rico. She recalls Detroit's dreams and nightmares from a colored and a feminist perspective, as in her sharp-fanged critique of former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer:

 

his protruding finger
peeks out of the oversized sleeve
of his black robe ...
in short pants & adidas
reciting aloud to himself:
I am not nor have I ever been (thump of a footfall) a member of the Negro race (thump)

(from "Ass-emulation")

 

Likewise, a loving but sharply critical poem for her own brother shows both familial love and disapproval, and shows Cintron at her bicultural and lyrical best:

 

he speaks Spanish sometimes
when he's making love to the anglos
porque las chicas
think it's sexy
but to nos padres he always
screams that we are "AMERICANS"
and should hablar ingles solamente

(from "mis hermanos")

 

She recalls her past employment as a Detroit City Council aide, and her proximity there to titan and former Mayor Coleman Young in an affectionate but sad poem from the book's "New Detroit Poems" sequence:

 

It was late in his life
and he was tired
wading amidst a Cobo crowd
celebrating his last recrowning ...
   the cognac feigned triumph
   yet, his smile knew
   that we were samurai
   and this was Pearl Harbor

(from "The Last Man")

 

Finally, it's the power of imagery that is the most impressive skill Cintron brings: pictures at an exhibition of Detroit past, present and future tense. Cintron's imagery makes this book a fitting new member of the club of meat-and-potatoes Detroit writers lately making a mark in the larger world through big publishers (Vievee Francis, Geoffrey Jacques, Lolita Hernandez among them).

In a simple, imagistic, untitled poem for her father, Cintron displays the unerring eye for almost painterly visual detail that typifies the best of Detroit poetry:

 

Daddy is dead
His trousers hang
on a hook near his bed
In the dimness, I slip
my hand into his back pocket
seeking some token ...

 

In a city blessedly endowed with literary talent, Chocolate City Latina offers innumerable tokens of the talent, skill and scope of one of Detroit's better poets.

 

As part of Springfed Arts Metro Detroit Writers series, Esperanza Malave Cintron reads from Chocolate City Latina, along with authors George Dila, Mary Jo Firth and Mary Minock, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Scarab Club, 217 E. Farnsworth, Detroit; 313-831-1250.

Rayfield A. Waller is a professor of Africana Studies at Wayne State University. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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