Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
"Business" is the third poem of a suite of five poems in Victor Hernández Cruz's 1973 collection, Mainland. Other poems in the suite include "Atmosphere," "Memory," "Love," and "Music." Like the other poems, "Business" relays the sayings of Don Arturo, a wise man who offers parables and cryptic "messages" on universal topics, although unlike the other poems, "Business" is longer, consisting of 34 short, clipped lines of free verse. The poem tells the story of a street vendor and musician who sold puppets and played guitar and was regularly arrested for doing so. Don Arturo relates how detectives and clerks loved the puppet show the man put on during his court appearance and bought puppets and whistles from him. When the judge responds to the detectives' and clerks' enthusiasm for the "criminal's" entertainment with indignance, the musician says that his business is "monkey business." Cruz tells a similar story about Don Arturo, apparently a real person and friend, in his essay "Don Arturo: A Story of Migration."
The subject of the poem is business, and its central theme the conflict between institutionalized ideas of business, as represented by the state, and personal ideas of business, as represented by the musician. Cruz suggests that institutionalized notions of business are impersonal, humorless, and destructive, whereas business rooted in human connection and contact is emotionally satisfying and life-affirming.
The fact that the police and clerks fell in love with the musician's puppet show also suggests that institutionalized business, regulated by licenses, taxes, and the like, is out of step with what most people want and need. Cruz represents the musician as a trickster figure who manages to usurp authority by understanding human beings' desire to be free. The parable-like quality of the anecdote and the fact that it is related in a straightforward and simple manner by someone who speaks from a position of authority not rooted in the state give this poem universal appeal. It is a poem about the triumph of the little guy.