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By Judith Ortiz Cofer

It is a dangerous thing

to forget the climate of your birthplace,

to choke out the voices of dead relatives

when in dreams they call you

by your secret name.

It is dangerous

to spurn the clothes you were born to wear

for the sake of fashion; dangerous

to use weapons and sharp instruments

you are not familiar with; dangerous

to disdain the plaster saints

before which your mother kneels

praying with embarrassing fervor

that you survive in the place you have chosen to live:

a bare, cold room with no pictures on the walls,

a forgetting place where she fears you will die

of loneliness and exposure.

Jesús, María, y José, she says,

el olvido is a dangerous thing.


Judith Ortiz Cofer, “El Olvido” from Terms of Survival. Copyright © 1987 by Judith Ortiz Cofer. Reprinted by permission of Arte Público Press.

Source: Terms of Survival (Arte Público Press, 1987)

  • Relationships
  • Religion

Poet Bio

Judith Ortiz Cofer
Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in Hormigueros, a small town in Puerto Rico. When she was a young child her father’s military career took the family to Paterson, New Jersey, but she often spent her childhood traveling back and forth between Puerto Rico and the U.S. At 15, her family moved again, this time to Augusta, Georgia, where she eventually earned a BA in English from Augusta College. She later earned an MA in English from Florida Atlantic University and did graduate work at Oxford University. In 2010, Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. Herwork explores the rifts and gaps that arise between her split cultural heritages.

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