“The Purpose of Altar Boys” is composed in free verse. Its forty-five lines are held together in a single stanza. The title appears to be straightforward and serious, preparing the reader for an account of the function of altar boys in the Catholic church. Alberto Ríos, however, looking back from the point of view of adulthood, assumes the voice of a mischievous altar boy who has created innovations in the performance of his duties when he assists the priest during the sacrament of Communion. As the poem progresses, the word “purpose” of the title takes on the meaning of intention.
The altar boy begins by explaining the way in which the human eye is constructed for perceiving good and evil. He says he learned this from his friend Tonio at catechism, where the boys were being taught the principles of their religion. Tonio learned about the eye from his mother. The altar boy explains that “the big part” of the eye “admits good” and the “little/ black part” is for “seeing evil.” He believed this because Tonio’s mother was a widow and, consequently, an “authority” on such things. Because the dark part of the eye sees evil, the altar boy associates evil with darkness. He explains that this is why children cannot go out at night and why girls sometimes undress at night and walk around their rooms or stand in their windows with nothing on but their sandals.
The narrator claims that he was the altar boy who “knew about...
(The entire section is 491 words.)