El Olvido

Analysis by: Courtney Conkle

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 ovido is a dangerous thing.

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I really enjoyed this poem because it was super easy to understand. Cofer used simple diction and great imagery throughout. When I read this poem I could feel where she was coming from. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s poem “EL Olvido” has a clear theme, not forgetting. Throughout the poem she repeats “it’s a dangerous” and then describes something incredibly important that people sometimes forget. She begins with the line “it is a dangerous thing to forget the climate of your birthplace”, meaning you shouldn’t forget the place you came from. Cofer was originally born in Puerto Rico then later moved to the United States. When she says it’s dangerous to forget the climate of your birthplace, I believe she’s speaking figuratively and literally; that you not only shouldn’t forget the actual place you were born but also the family you were born into. Later in the poem it states “it is a dangerous to spurn the clothes you were born to wear for the sake of fashion”. In this line I think that she meant people shouldn’t change who they are just to fit in with society. The next lines “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” mean that you should never forget who raised you and all the sacrifices they gave up for your well-being. In the last few lines I believe Ortiz Cofer is saying that you should move on and grow up but never forget all of the things that made you the person you are today. You also should never forget the places you’ve seen and the people you’ve met because they’ve shaped you, into you. This poem is really perfect for all of us seniors because next year we will be venturing off to college, and it’s super important to remember all of our values and where we came from.

Ally Silvey
I found a beautiful meaning behind this poem. It was simple to come to the meaning as well. There was no need for fancy diction, or a long poem for that matter. Cofer repeated it is a dangerous thing and reminded the audience of the things in life we must remember. I agree that she intended the theme to be that we must remember the past, but at the same time we must be careful that is doesn’t wreck who we are now. She also makes a point on being yourself. She does this when she talks about destroying the clothes you were meant to wear. These clothes you were meant to wear are the fashion you prefer without the influence of others opinions. I personally related to this poem because I am a high school student. Like most I have realized the need to fit in that always seems to be there, and I am also at a point of my life full of transitions. I must remember my raisings, but I must also mature. This is a point that this poem reinforces. The Spanish used in the last two lines provides a beautiful way of ending the point and putting the final theme into place.

Commentary by Brooke McMillan

This poem is very beautiful and has a lot of truth behind it. It really illustrates the importance of remembering where you came from. No matter where you go in life you must stay true to who you are and not who everyone wants you to be. Cofer repeats the words “it is dangerous” several times throughout the poem. I believe she does this to show all of the things that can be harmful to someone’s identity. You must stay to close to your roots and never forget where you came from or who raised you. It is okay to grow up and try new things but don’t let it consume you and define you. Many people can relate to this poem and take something away from it. It speaks to everyone and reminds us all to appreciate where we came from and the sacrifices your family makes for you.


Analysis by: Courtney Conkle

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.

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Judith Ortiz Cofer uses free verse to describe a young girl’s resentment of her life. Throughout this poem you can feel the angst in the little girl’s heart. The word Esperanza means believing in hope for the future, and I feel as if that’s why Cofer picked this as the title. I feel as if believing and hoping for a better future depicts the theme for this poem perfectly. The first lines state “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”, from the very first line you can feel the burden weighing down on her shoulders. She was born into this world as a small baby carrying a burden bigger than anyone could handle. I feel as though knowing you were the reason for your mother’s death is too much to bear, as is. But to know the only parent you had left hated you, would be unbearable. Cofer uses great extended metaphors when describing the indignation her father gives her. The line reads “I have scoured a house soiled with the thick root of his resentment,” I feel as if she has tried everything to gain her father’s approval and to make a clean sleight but nothing will heal the pain of losing his wife. The last few lines of this poem are really deep. When Cofer says “It has left its mark on the walls, in his eyes, and on me”; I feel like she’s trying to express that her father has hurt her more than skin deep. The poem ends with the phrase “In my hand I hold a broom, in my heart—ashes ashes”. At the end of this poem I feel as if the girl has done all she could do to try to gain the love and acceptance from her father; but she never did so she finally gave up. For this being a short poem its very powerful, and definitely worth reading!

comment- Makenzie McPhee

This poem stands out to mean, it really speaks to me. It is talking about rejection and how hard it is to endure, especially when you love that person that rejects you. The narrator is a victim to the verbal abuse of her father. She is trying hard to get her father’s attention but he doesn’t pay her any attention, he blames his own daughter for the death of his wife. It has to be horrible living in a house with a man you call your father but he has hated you since you took your first breath, because you took your mother’s life away but it was out of your control. She has to fill her mother’s place and take care of all the house work and duties left behind from her late mother. She tries to fill the gap in order to receive her father’s love, but it helped her none. She feels empty and useless and is slowing dying in her own home and her dad pushes her further and further away and she will never develop the special father- daughter bond.

Commentary by Sierra Reilly
I agree with the conclusion you reached in your analysis of “Esperanza.” It is indeed a moving poem, and it speaks to me on a very personal level. This poem explores the inner turmoil of the author because of the fact that she is the object of her father’s animosity. Ortiz Cofer has had to endure the constant hostility of a bitter father “all [her] life” (6). I can relate to the profound suffering emanating from her poem. Speaking from personal experience, living in a house where your father—your very own flesh and blood—frequently criticizes your opinions, personal convictions, and mistakes instead of congratulating you for your achievements or offering you encouragement, loathes you for who you are and the beliefs you possess, and considers you to be an abomination, is probably one of the most intensely disheartening experiences a human being could ever face, especially in the absence of the other parent.
I like the metaphor the author uses in line 8: “the thick soot of his resentment.” Soot is a perfect comparison here; it spreads easily, stains quickly, and gets everywhere. So in comparing her father’s hatred to soot, she is suggesting that his hatred affects the people and things around it, herself included; it has “left its mark on the walls, / in his eyes, and on me” (9 – 10). The “broom” the author wields in line 12 represents her attempts to “wipe away” (11), or somehow make amends with her father. It also symbolizes her efforts at sweeping up the “ashes” (14) in her heart; in other words, cleaning up the residue left from the fire of her father’s resentment.

Commentary by Kathryn Tuck

This poem while short still allows the reader to understand exactly how this young girl feels. This little girl’s mother clearly died in childbirth. “I was born at the cost of my mother’s life.” (2) While sad, most would view the death of a mother for her child as noble. There of course would be sympathy, but also a realization that in such a tragic death a beautiful thing has been created. This girl’s experience was the exact opposite. Her mother’s death only caused her father to resent her. This hatred was placed on the girl the second she was born. The child not only has no mother, but a father who doesn’t appreciate her. He has ignored the fact that the mother literally put her all into creating her, and is looking at the situation as if she is responsible for killing his wife. The diction does an amazing job of depicting what is going on inside this child’s head. One line that specifically sticks out is “I have scoured a house soiled with the thick soot of his resentment.” (7) It is easy to picture a house with a careless father, and a daughter stuck alone in her room while depression seems to drip down the walls. I agree that this poem did an amazing job in painting a picture, especially because of the word choice.

Comment ~ Aisha D.

The first verse of this poem is ironic to the title. She was given the name Esperanza meaning hope but she was born at the cost of her mother’s life. Enduring resentment from her Father as soon as she was placed on this Earth is an unbearable thing to live with. Lines 7 through 8 states “I have scoured a house soiled with the thick soot of his resentment”. Cofer is using metaphor to compare a black powdery substance, with her Father’s resentment showing that the hatred towards Esperanza was great. I guess that she feels that she doesn’t belong, she feels uncomfortable in the house and that she’s treated wrongly. I agree with you in that the character Esperanza was born with a burden that she had no control of. Other than metaphors I think that maybe this is an open poem, it doesn’t really have a specific structure to it. Although I’m not quite familiar with poetic devices, I think the definition of an open poem describes this poem well.

Judith Ortiz Cofer
Analysis by: Courtney Conkle

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.

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When I first saw that the title of this poem was “Quinceanera” I assumed it was about a young girl’s fifteenth birthday. But when reading its entirety it’s about a young girl celebrating her life of coming into womanhood. As I read this poem I could see a young Hispanic girl getting ready for her big day and thinking about how much her life was about to change. In the first couple of lines it basically says that she has to pack up her toys and such to become a woman. It then goes on to tell about her slipping into her satin slip made especially for that day and her mother pinning her back into braids. This new look is for her new life that she’s about to embark on. As she is getting ready, I imagine her starring into her mirror thinking about all of the stuff she has to do not that she’s a “woman”. It describes the household chores that she’ll have to do when she’s on her own. I wasn’t too sure what the poet was saying towards the end of the poem. It says that her blood was shameful and I feel as if the girl in the poem feels like she has disappointed her parents. The girls tone shifts from prepared for her new life to unsure and overwhelmed. The emotions of become a woman so young are eating her up inside. This poem is written in free verse meaning it has no uniform rhyme scheme or regular meter. I think it’s interesting how Cofer would make breaks in the lines and stanzas; I feel like she did that to emphasize how the girl wasn’t ready to be grown up. Ortiz Cofer uses similies and imagery throughout. My favorite is when she says “I am wound like the gut of a clock, waiting for each hour to release me” that line is powerful and expresses how the girl is waiting to be released into the world even if she isn’t ready to be.

Commentary by Geoffrey Carter

When reading your commentary on this poem it really brought out the real meaning of the poem. This poem, mainly about a girls big day, or Quinceanera, was shown to be so much more when put in your words. You made me realize in your commentary of the poem how big that day is for a hispanic girl coming into womanhood. You talk about how the girl is talking about, and thinking of the trials of the adult life she's about to enter, by pointing out Judith Ortiz Cofer's unique style and descriptive words. You talk about her simile's and imagery she uses throughtout the poem, and overall your explication made me a lot more interested in this poem and to read more of her poems. "Quinceanera" through your explication has made it a much better poem in my eyes, and you did a great job overall.

Common Ground
Judith Ortiz Cofer
Analyzed by: Courtney Conkle

Blood tells the story of your life

in heartbeats as you live it;

bones speak in the language

of death, and flesh thins

with age when up

through your pores rises

the stuff of your origin.

These days,

when I look in the mirror I see

my grandmother's stern lips

speaking in parentheses at the corners

of my mouth of pain and deprivation

I have never known. I recognize

my father's brows arching in disdain

over the objects of my vanity, my mother's

nervous hands smoothing lines

just appearing on my skin,

like arrows pointing downward

to our common ground.

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When I first saw the title of this poem I was thinking that it was going to be about a group of people coming to an agreement or all having something in common hints “Common Ground”. But after reading it a couple of times there was much more than meets the eye. The first lines read “Blood tells the story of your life in heartbeats as you live it”, meaning our family and people that are basically family keep us going! The next lines talk about how our bones speak the language of death, no matter how different we are everyone is still going to die. At the end of the first stanza Cofer says “through your pores rises the stuff of your origin” meaning that our origins are deep inside of us but they all are going to come out and be similar to everyone at some point. Throughout the second stanza of the poem Cofer describes her personal experiences with coming to common ground. I imagine her standing in front of her mirror realizing all of the things she has in common with her parents and her ancestors. In the last stanza she describes all of the things she notices about herself that are similar to other people. In today’s society people should look for the things they have in common rather than tearing each other down because they’re different. Just like the other poems by Mrs. Ortiz Cofer they are written in free verse and she uses imagery and extended metaphors to paint a picture for the readers. I’ve really enjoyed her poems because they all have a sense of family traditions or something about family roots.