Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Stanza 2

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

Stanza 2

Lines 18-23

all wanting the comfort
of spoken Spanish, to gaze upon the family portrait
of her plain wide face, her ample bosom
resting on her plump arms, her look of maternal interest
as they speak to her and each other
of their dreams and their disillusions--

  • This second stanza picks up from the first one, continuing the thought that was interrupted at the end of line 17. That technique is known as enjambment.
  • We're also told that these customers—the Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Mexicans—get a kind of comfort by talking to the shop owner. They get to speak Spanish, their first language, and take in the sight of this patroness.
  • She looks like… well, like family. Figuratively speaking, she looks like someone who might appear in their family portrait.
  • She's also "well-rounded" in build, which seems to suggest that she's a nourished, and nourishing, figure.
  • Finally, she has an interested, motherly ("maternal") look on her face while they talk. Clearly, she's someone these people feel comfortable talking to, both about the good stuff in their lives ("dreams") and the bad ("disillusions").
  • She's a bit like Dr. Phil, just without the TV show… or the bad moustache… or, you know, the terrible advice. Okay, so maybe she's nothing like Dr. Phil.

Lines 25-28

how she smiles understanding,
when they walk down the narrow aisles of her store
reading the labels of packages aloud, as if
they were the names of lost lovers;
Suspiros,
Merengues, the stale candy of everyone's childhood.

  • This store owner really gets her clients, gang. She talks to them and she understands them when they read out her package labels.
  • Now, what kind of shopper reads the labels out loud? We'd probably take our cart down another aisle if we saw someone doing that at our local grocery.
  • Here, though, the owner understands that the labels—like the food they cover—are reminders of her client's homes.
  • They utter words like "Suspiros,/ Merengues" (both words for meringues) out loud, because doing so connects them with the language, taste, and memory of their past.
  • In another figurative description, these treats—even if they are stale—are from "everyone's" childhood. Everyone who shops here can remember munching on them when they were little, and so everyone is transported back to that happy time when they see these goodies in this deli.
  • Mmm—memories. We feel that way when we eat Cap'n Crunch cereal. What foods take you back, Shmoopers?

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