The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Gary Soto’s “Black Hair” is a short poem in free verse, its thirty lines forming three equal stanzas. The opening poem of the anthology, this poem is an eight-year-old’s explanation of how he connects with baseball, through players who look like him.

“At eight I was brilliant with my body,” Soto begins, describing the innocence and bravado of youth. Despite the oppressive heat of July, the speaker “sat in the bleachers” to see a “figure—Hector Moreno/ Quick and hard with turned muscles.” He comes to memorize the stance of Hector, his hero, to match it: “His crouch the one I assumed before an altar/ Of worn baseball cards, in my room.”

The reader wonders why this player, Hector, is so significant. The speaker answers in the second stanza, “I came here because I was Mexican, a stick/ Of brown light in love with those/ Who could do it.” The speaker comments on his own size, “What could I do with 50 pounds”; on a personality trait, “my shyness”; and in the next line, on a more obvious physical characteristic, “My black torch of hair.” The speaker wants to watch a player who can and does “do it,” “the triple and hard slide,/ The gloves eating balls into double plays.” He needs the role models of those—like him—who can succeed, unlike his parents. The end of this stanza abruptly shifts away from the game of baseball to the realities of this young speaker’s life. “Father was dead,” he...

(The entire section is 562 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Beginning with the opening line, Soto immediately engages the reader by using words in unexpected ways to reinforce his meanings. The speaker says he was “brilliant.” The reader typically associates brilliance with a level of intelligence, of cognitive ability; Soto surprises the reader by using it to designate physical talent, as he does again as he begins the third stanza: “In the bleachers I was brilliant with my body.”

The word “brilliant” is also often associated with describing levels of light. Soto forges a link with light imagery in using metaphor to compare the speaker to a “a stick/ Of brown light.” Color is linked with the goodness of light. Soto creates another metaphor to reinforce this connection when he states that the speaker’s hair is a “black torch,” which he fears is “about to go out” given the realities of his family life. However, Soto continues to use light imagery, with the word “flared” to describe the speaker’s vicarious rounding of the bases with Hector. Concurrently, Soto says his hair lifts “Beautifully,” in the shape of a lit torch. Despite the fact the speaker has dark hair, Soto uses it as an emblem of light, a symbol of promise, as in the first light of a new day, a symbol of tomorrow, of light that illuminates the future.

The poet squarely places the speaker at the game—“I sat in the bleachers/ Of Romain Playground”—and then uses movement to paint the setting of the...

(The entire section is 451 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Blasingame, James. “Interview with Gary Soto.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 47 (November, 2003): 266-267.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Patricide and Resurrection: Gary Soto.” In Chicano Poetry: A Response to Chaos. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.

Candelaria, Cordelia. Chicano Poetry. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Cooley, Peter. “I Can Hear You Now.” Parnassus 8, no. 1 (1979): 297-311.

De la Fuentes, Patricia. “Mutability and Stasis: Images of Time in Gary Soto’s Black Hair.” American Review 16 (1988): 188-197.

Murphy, Patricia. “Inventing Lunacy: An Interview with Gary Soto.” Hayden’s Ferry Review 18 (Spring/Summer, 1996): 29-37.

Olivares, Julián. “The Streets of Gary Soto.” Latin American Literary Review 18 (January-June, 1990): 32-49.

Soto, Gary. “The Childhood Worries: Or, Why I Became a Writer.” Iowa Review 25 (Spring/Summer, 1995): 104-115.

Williamson, Alan. “In a Middle Style.” Poetry 135 (March, 1980): 348-354.