• Judith Ortiz Cofer

by Gabriela Rodriguez


Judith Ortiz Cofer was born in 1952 in the small town of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico. Her parents, Fanny Morot and J. M. Ortiz Cofer, came to the United States in 1956 and settled in Paterson, New Jersey. As the daughter of a frequently absent military father, Ortiz Cofer spent portions of her childhood commuting between Hormigueros and Paterson. Although most of her schooling was in Paterson, she also spent extended periods of time with her grandmother in Puerto Rico. This back-and-forth movement between her two cultures became a vital part of her poetry and fiction. At the age of fifteen, Ortiz Cofer and her family moved to Augusta, Georgia. She then received an undergraduate degree in English from Augusta College. A few years later she moved to Florida and received an M.A. from Florida Atlantic University. In 1984 she joined the faculty of the University of Georgia in Athens, where she is now Regents' and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing.


"El Olvido"
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.


In Judith Ortiz Cofer poem, "El Olvido" which literally means, "The Forgotten", she uses a solemn tone to talk about the importance of learning to grow without forgetting the past. Coming from a different Country, I can personally identify myself with this poem because it becomes a challenge everyday to not forget my past; to remember who I am and where I came from. When Ortiz Cofer says, "It is a dangerous thing to forget the climate of your birthplace", It seems to me that she isn't only talking about the country we were born in, but also from what mother and what family we were born into. The place that we were born in and the people that we grow up with is equally as important, and should never be forgotten. When Ortiz Cofer says, "Dangerous to use weapons and sharp instruments you are not familiar with", it reminds me of the new things we are going to encounter throughout our life's, and because it is so normal to other people and it is unknown to us, we could misuse it; meaning that we may have better opportunities in life but we have to learn how to use them properly in order to take advantage of them so that we won't get hurt, or hurt others. "Jesús, Maria, y José, she says, el olvido is a dangerous thing.", this to me is the most important line because she again, reminds us to not forget the past but to be able to forgive the harms of the past. Yes, it is our duty to prosper and walk away from our birthplace so that we can grow up and become adults, but in the process we should always remember the challenges we had to overcome in order to be where we are at right now. When ever we look back to our birthplace we should always feel proud of where we came from; and we should never be ashamed to look back at our birthplace and to discover who we really are, because remember "It is a dangerous thing to forget".

Citation for Poem: "Poetry Magazine." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Picture: "What Nationality Are You" Web. 29 Jan. 2015.



My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.


In the poem, "Quinceañera", By Judith Ortiz Cofer, she talks about the traditional quinceañera that every Latin/Hispanic girl has at the age of fifteen, to show that the little girl that she once was is now becoming of age. I can relate to this poem because I also had a quinceañera. Ortiz Cofer starts off her poem by describing a girl who is putting away her dolls to represent how she is leaving childhood behind her when she says, "My dolls have been putaway like dead children in a chest." Based on her discouraged tone we can tell that she does not want to grow up like when she says "I am to wash my own clothes and sheets from this day on, as if the fluids of my body were poison." It seems that she is disappointed about growing up because she has more chores to do now like washing her own clothes. It is always hard to leave your childhood behind and to give up the fun. I can go back to when I was fifteen and remember that I did not like having the responsibilities. Ortiz Cofer also talks about wishing to go back to her adolescence; she says "I am wound like the guts of a clock waiting for each hour to release me", she uses this hyperbole to express her disappointment about growing up. She feels as if she is full of responsibilities, and does not have time to be a child anymore. Personally, I thought it was sad to leave my childhood, but at the same time I was excited to become a young adult and was eager to experience the world in a different way. Even though her experience was slightly different than mine I feel connected to this poem in all all the aspects of it.

Citation for Poem: "Poetry Magazine." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

Piture: "Sadness Wallpaper." Web. 29 Jan. 2015.

My name mocks me
for I was born at the cost
of my mother’s life,
earning my father’s hatred
with my first breath.
All my life
I have scoured a house soiled
with the thick soot of his resentment.
It has left its mark on the walls,
in his eyes, and on me.
All of it I have tried to wipe away.
In my hands I hold a broom,
in my heart—
ashes, ashes.


In this poem "Esperanza", Ortiz Cofer describes the the tragic life of a young girl who has lost hope in gaining her fathers love through a discouraged and reflective tone. She starts off the poem by explaining why the girl is not loved by her father when she says, "...I was born at the cost of my mother's life , earning my fathers hatred with my first breath." She explains that her father does not love her because her mother died when she gave birth to her. Ortiz Cofer uses imagery to describe the resentment that the father had towards his daughter when she says, "I have scoured a house soiled with the thick soot of his resentment." This also infers that she has tried to swipe away her fathers resentment, but has not been able to accomplish it. In the last sentence: "In my hands I hold a broom in my heart- ashes, ashes" touches upon an even deeper level. Ortiz Cofer allowes the readers to feel as she feels. This describes how the young girl has lost the hope of gaining her fathers love. When she says that she carries ashes in her heart it's almost as if she were saying that she is more dead than alive because she is so broken hearted and life is so full of suffering that it would be better to be dead. The metaphor used can also symbolize a person with the tools to sweep away their problems however the battles are locked deep within. Even though I do not personally relate to this poem, Judith Ortiz Cofer does a great job in appealing to emotion in this poem; so as you read it it's almost as if you can feel her pain and understand what she is going through.
Citation for Poem: "Poetry Magazine." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015

Picture: "Lonley Girl." Web. 18 Feb. 2015.


"La Envidia"
Its a green snake:the fashionable necklaceyour best friend wears,
the fat red cheeks
of someone else's baby,
the man with muscleslike twisted ropewhose armswill never circle your waist,your mother's breastsyou remember as ripe fruit she savedfor the next child and the next.
It is the flight of migrating birds
you watch from your room every autumn
heading for islands
where wishes grow like coconuts
on beaches you will never see.

CommentaryIn this poem, "La Envidia", Judith Ortiz Cofer talks about envy and jealousy in a sincere and pessimistic tone. In her first line when she says, "Its a green snake..", it seems to me that she uses this overstatement to describe and compare envy to the poison a snake has. She also does that to imply that it's not good to feel envy or jealousy in any type of way because it's not good for you to be carrying all that hateful poison inside of you. Throughout the poem Cofer Ortiz uses a great deal of imagery to describe the most common things that people envy like, "The fashionable necklace your best friend wears" and "The man with muscles like twisted rope", but she also talks about jealousy when she says, "Your mother's breasts you remember as ripe fruit she saved for the next child and the next." That imagery also describes how a person can not only be jealous of objects, but also of people for example younger siblings like Ortiz Cofer describes. Towards the end of the poem it looks like she is giving an explanation of why you should not envy others when she says, "Migrating birds you watch from your room every autumn heading for islands where wishes grow like coconuts on beaches you will never see." This explains how you are only hurting yourself because you are only wishing for something you can't really have. I thought this was a really good poem because I think that there are many people who go through this. I also agree with Ortix Cofer when she says that la envidia is like "a green snake" because it's as if you were caring poison inside of you, and that poison doesn't let you appreciate what you already have.