Study Guide

The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica Stanza 3

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

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Stanza 3

Lines 29-35

She spends her days
jamón y queso and wrapping it in wax paper
tied with string: plain ham and cheese
that would cost less at the A&P, but it would not satisfy
the hunger of the fragile old man lost in the folds
of his winter coat, who brings her lists of items
that he reads to her like poetry, or the others,

  • At the beginning of this third and final stanza, we get… more food. That checks out. We are in a deli, after all.
  • Our store owner has a particular way that she sells ham and cheese, wrapping them together in wax paper and tying the package with a string.
  • Sure, it costs more to buy it this way than it would at the generic A&P grocery (RIP A&P).
  • You know what, though? It's totes worth it.
  • Just ask that old guy, shrunken by age and sporting an oversized winter coat. He's after the real deal.
  • That explains why, in a touching simile, his treats his grocery list like poetry. Every word on the list is important to him, just as every word counts in a poem.
  • And it looks like he's not the only one to whom this matters. Let's read on…

Lines 36-38

whose needs she must divine, conjuring up products
from places that now exist only in their hearts--
closed ports she must trade with.

  • In the poem's final lines, we read about other clients "whose needs she must divine." In other words, our store owner has to figure out ("divine") what these clients of hers want.
  • What they're after, it seems, are products from their past, reminders of their homeland.
  • Sadly, those places "now exist only in their hearts." In other words, these people are shopping for a connection to the memories of their past, of the places from whence they came.
  • You can't package that at a discount.
  • These people, referred to earlier as "exiles," have hearts that—in the poem's final metaphor—are closed ports.
  • In other words, the places they remember as "home" no longer exist. Time has moved on, people have changed, and situations have evolved.
  • At the same time, these same people are desperate to experience what they remember as "home" by coming to this store.
  • It's up to our store owner, then, to give them that experience, to "trade" with them, by stocking her shelves with the things that will give them those memories.
  • In this way, she's not running a deli. She's the proud owner of a time machine, one that takes people back to a place that they've lost and are now trying to reclaim.
  • Yeah, we'd say "Patroness of Exiles" is a pretty apt job title to put on her business card.

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