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)
More By This Poet
Women Who Love Angels
They are thin
and rarely marry, living out
their long lives
in spacious rooms, French doors
giving view to formal gardens
where aromatic flowers
grow in profusion.
They play their pianos
in the late afternoon
tilting their heads
at a gracious angle
as if listening
to notes pitched above
the human range.
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A wishbone branch falls
from my Grandma Thelma’s oak
What do you know about magic? e1 asks.
E bends e old body down, turns
the wishbone branch into
a cross, places it around my neck.
I am strapped at the Black River’s right shoulder,
When I was a boy
I was either a child eating bugs
or a child being eaten by bugs, but
now that I am older am I a man
who devours the world or am I a man
being devoured by the world?
Someone once told...
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Wake up, greet the sun, and pray.
Burn cedar, sweet grass, sage—
sacred herbs to honor the lives we’ve been given,
for we have been gifted these ways since the beginning of time.
Remember, when you step into the arena of your life,
For the Feral Splendor That Remains
sometimes I strain