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.)