Fairy Tale Memories
of Being Latina
By Robert Waddell, June 1, 2012
Over thirty-years ago poet Maria Aponte penned her first poem on the back of a brown paper bodega bag. Not bad, since Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope and Toni Morrison plotted her first novel while riding the subway to work in Manhattan from her home in Queens.
Now in “Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella,” Aponte captures the sights, sounds and tastes of growing up a Boricua female in New York. But more than that, the poet re-creates a world full of real people, especially her mother and grandmother and the indelible influence they had on her.
The name Cinderella might be a misnomer since Aponte acts as her own fairy godmother and it’s not the ball she wants to attend; her poetry is awash in Puerto Rican culture, the glass slipper that always fits.
Aponte’s poems here are full of images of water, rhythmical music, understanding and compassion as in “Abuela’s Plant” where she writes “The pounding of a jackhammer,/the constant rhythm uprooting…A packet of sewing needles clustered together,/rusty scissor, blades folded in an embrace…Abuela’s plant, a remedy for tradition,/medicine,/a sense of familiarity, comfort, faith./Plants are gifts. Gifts are life.”
Poems culled from other books and the author’s performances, “Transitions of a Nuyorican Cinderella” reflects portraits of people Aponte has found in her culture who reflect something back to herself about herself, what it means to be a Puerto Rican woman. Aponte quietly and powerfully captures palpable moods and feelings with her word color scheme. The poems here are light, fresh and full of sweet tropical, youthful winds.
For example, in “Portrait III Carlos” Aponte writes “A young woman strolls by and Carlos chokes on his café con leche. Her walk is not a walk but a bounce, the kind of bounce that emits a brilliant light of blue energy, a bounce that makes you stop everything and marvel at the joys of youth, when the world was new and freedom, the domain. Carlos stops reading to watch. Let’s out a deep sigh, an old man’s sigh, not sexual, but appreciative, the kind that comes down from deep in the heart when one suffers a loss….Carlos is certain, she is on her own search of wonder….”
A ‘search of wonder’ could best describe here Aponte’s poems, which contain a quiet revolution and an appreciation of life. It is the poet’s fresh eye that brings a reader on her journey to see what was always there. A fragrance, a romance, a glace, Aponte does not shake a fist or make cries of rebellion in her poetry but hers is an appreciation for the moments of life, which shake, rattle, revive and create new life through the power of memory. She never misses anything and appreciates everything.
Aponte’s poetic treasure chest holds onto the familiarity of the past, all of her Barrio and Bronx haunts and hang outs from when she was younger. It is the past that sustains the present and a memory becomes the moment now. Aponte remembers the civil rights movement and re-envisions her artistic growth in “So You Think I Left You,” and presents her sexier side in “Brown Hips, Red Lips, Hot Skin.”
Ending with a Puerto Rican fairy tale set in the Bronx titled “White Carnations,” Aponte bravely shows that this Nuyorican Cinderella can emotionally and physically sustain herself while still being vulnerable and needing love. Aponte’s story “White Carnations” ends with prince charming Carlos dancing at the Hunts Point Palace but it’s not a fairy tale but a story closer to a reality tale.
Aponte writes always with spare clarity about the joys of being a Latina while quietly blowing away the all-too consuming and suffocating myth of a woman needing a Prince Charming. It is not a man who will save her but the fruits of her labor, her cultural investigation and the author’s personal and cultural past that will serve as an indelible, not glass, but crystal slipper that will last a lifetime, beyond the wildest expectations of any kind of happily-ever after.