I have posted a poem and a sample “Brainstorm Draft” of a paper I’m writing about that poem. Keep in mind that this is a work in progress. Thanks to Cristian Bueno for the suggestion!
For my paper, I am doing a close reading of “Where I’m From” – a poem by Willie Perdomo.
Here is the poem that I’m writing about:
Where I’m From
By Willie Perdomo
Because she liked the “kind of music” that I listened to and she liked the way I walked as well as the way I talked, she always wanted to know where I was from.
If I said that I was from 110th Street and Lexington Avenue, right in the heart of a transported Puerto Rican town, where the hodedores live and night turns to day without sleep, do you think then she might know where I was from?
Where I’m from, Puerto Rico stays on our minds when the fresh breeze of café con leche y pan con montequilla comes through our half-open windows and under our doors while the sun starts to rise.
Where I’m from, babies fall asleep to the bark of a German Shepherd named Tarzan. We hear his wandering footsteps under a midnight sun. Tarzan has learned quickly to ignore the woman who begs her man to stop slapping her with his fist. “Please baby! Por favor! I wear it wasn’t me. I swear to my mother. Mameeee!!” (her dead mother told her this would happen one day.)
Where I’m from, Independence Day is celebrated every day. The final gunshot from last night’s murder is followed by the officious knock of a warrant squad coming to take your bread, coffee and freedom away.
Where I’m from, the police come into your house without knocking. They throw us off rooftops and say we slipped. They shoot my father and say he was crazy. They put a bullet in my head and say they found me that way.
Where I’m from, you run to the hospital emergency room because some little boy spit a razor out of his mouth and carved a crescent into your face. But you have to understand, where I’m from even the dead have to wait until their number is called.
Where I’m from, you can listen to Big Daddy retelling stories on his corner. He passes a pint of light Bacardi, pouring the dead’s tributary swig unto the street. “I’m God when I put a gun to your head. I’m the judge and you in my courtroom.”
Where I’m from, it’s the late night scratch of rats’ feet that explains what my mother means when she says slowly, “Bueno, mijo, eso es la vida del pobre.” (Well, son, that is the life of the poor.)
Where I’m from, it’s sweet like my grandmother reciting a quick prayer over a pot of hot rice and beans. Where I’m from, it’s pretty like my niece stopping me in the middle of the street and telling me to notice all the stars in the sky.
The paper I’ve started is below. Like your assignment, I’m looking for a liminal space in this poem—a moment where the narrator is, in some way, experiencing two things at once. The text in brackets and bold font represents questions or comments I have for myself (or for an instructor, or maybe even for the poet himself… and perhaps I could find the answer by doing some research).
In the poem “Where I’m From” by Willie Perdomo, the person narrating the poem [is it the author himself who is narrating the poem, does it matter—should I try to address this?] considers how to answer the question he’s been asked: “Where are you from?” While this is a typical (and even clichéd) question to ask someone you’ve just met, the narrator has a way of exploring possible answers to make the readers see beyond what might be a mundane response. Instead of simply answering, “I live in Spanish Harlem, but I was born in Puerto Rico” [author never actually says this—should I offer more back up for my interpretation?] the narrator asks a series of questions, which, in turn, illustrates how he feels about both the question and the answer—which is anything but simple [is this sentence too wordy? Come back to it in the blueprint or editing phase]. The repetition of the phrase “Where I’m From” is both comforting and troubling in that the author has answers that are soothing and disquieting. For example, Perdomo writes: “Where I’m from… the fresh breeze of café con leche y pan con montequilla comes through our half-open windows and under our doors while the sun starts to rise.” But then in the next stanza he writes, “Tarzan has learned quickly to ignore the woman who begs her man to stop slapping her with his fist. [add more about this contrast—how does it illustrate my thesis… what IS my thesis???] The ideas that the poet expresses in these lines may seem like a contradiction, but as the famous poet Walt Whitman once said, “I contradict myself—I contain multitudes” [find the exact quote]. What the narrator in the poem wants the woman who is asking the question in the poem (and the reader) to know [wordy, fix later] is that it’s not easy to explain where he’s from. He is between places—between New York and Puerto Rico, between the smell of café con leche and the sound of a gunshot, between the memory of his grandmother cooking rice and beans and the memory of his mother talking about the life of the poor. [thesis has something to do with this—this is the liminal space]
[Insert a transition here to move into this next point.] Perdomo sometimes weaves Spanish into the poem to further illustrate that he is caught between worlds [is he caught between worlds, or is it more accurate to say that he has a foot in two worlds… is he straddling the worlds or do they come together? Look more closely at the poem to find an answer…] In many ways this poem explores the complicated nature of being uprooted from your birthplace. It also really gets at [find a better word or phrase here– “gets at” seems to general] the idea that answering the question “where are you from” means one thing to the person asking the question (this person is probably expecting a simple answer), but means something entirely different to the responder. All sorts of ideas and emotions and memories flood the narrator when he is asked this question, and it opens up his world to the reader in a way that is unexpected. [add more to this section—maybe add some more quotes from the poem].
Another thing [is there a better word?] that the poem explores at the beginning of the poem, is the feeling of being insulted. Perdomo writes, Because she liked the “kind of music” that I listened to and she liked the way I walked as well as the way I talked,…” Is the woman in the poem objectifying the narrator—seeing him as an exotic thing to be admired and to entertain her, or it simple flirtation? Perdomo does make a point of putting the phrase “the kind of music” in quotation marks, which indicates that the woman talking to him is not familiar with this music—she doesn’t seem to be able to name or label the type of music, suggesting that she is on the outside of his experience. Because Perdomo never names the woman, it could be argued that he doesn’t take her seriously—that she is a bit of a joke to him. However, he also uses the word “always” in the first stanza (“she always wanted to know where I was from”), which indicates that this is someone who is in his life consistently. That he knows her, even if he is not name her. This first stanza then, in a subtle way, sets the reader up for the dualities that exist throughout this poem [maybe START the paper with this idea?]
At this point in the paper, I think I have found a new starting point. I may start over with this new beginning… or I may just continue the draft as is to see what happens if I push through to the end. Check back in a few days to see my progress. In the meantime, work on your own brainstorm draft! Putting questions in brackets helps, because you can keep writing without getting stumped. I will return to my bracketed questions once I am finished with my brainstorm draft.