“Don’t believe the deadly game,” Miguel Algarin warns the elderly black Puerto Rican sitting in a park in Old San Juan, “of Northern cities paved with gold and plenty / don’t believe the fetching dream / of life improvement in New York / the only thing you’ll find in Boston / is a soft leather shoe up your ass.”
In this affecting collection of poetry and prose, Nuyorican poet Miguel Algarin crafts beautifully angry, sad pieces about injustice and loss. While warning his compatriots about the unreality of the American Dream, he acknowledges that “we are the pistons that / move the roughage through Uncle / Sam’s intestines, we keep the flow / of New York happening / we are its muscles.”
Algarin’s poems covering his long career give voice to the disenfranchised—the junkie, the HIV inflicted, the poverty stricken—and survival is a recurring theme. In the essay “Nuyorican Language,” which was originally published in 1975, he argues that for the New York Puerto Rican, there are three survival possibilities: to work hard for little money all your life and remain in eternal debt; to live life by taking risks of all types, including killing, cheating and stealing; and to create alternative behavioral habits. The Nuyorican poet, he says, must create a new language, “A new day needs a new language or else the day becomes a repetition of yesterday.”
While many of the poems focus on the Puerto Rican experience in New York, others touch on universal experiences such as the death of friends and the ephemeral nature of life. “So what if you’re dead, / I’m here, you’re gone, / and I’m left alone / to watch how time betrays, / and we die slow / so very slow.” And he turns his sharp gaze on events around the world, including the fights between England and Argentina for the Falkland Islands, Israel and Palestine for the Holy Land.
With an introduction by Ernesto Quiñonez, author of the acclaimed novel Bodega Dreams, this collection takes the reader through an intimate, autobiographical journey of one of the country’s leading Nuyorican writers and intellectuals.