Claribel Alegría’s “Documentary” is a nonstanzaic, 112-line poem about the poet’s homeland, El Salvador. The poem begins by inviting the reader to become a camera in the hands of the poem’s narrator, who speaks as a documentary film director. Together reader and narrator explore El Salvador, from the anthills to the harvest of coffee beans. The poem presents quick, vivid images of the El Salvadoran people, social problems, climate, food, and animal life in the same way a film or television crew might. After cataloging the characteristics of El Salvador, the poem’s narrator laments the country’s innocence and its inability to prosper.
“Documentary” opens by calling El Salvador a “queen ant/ extruding sacks of coffee,” the country’s primary export. The poem’s next image is of a family asleep in a ditch, presumably exhausted from working the harvest on a coffee plantation. As a camera might, the poem shifts to another image “among trees” of “rapid,/ dark-skinned fingers/ stained with honey.” Coffee berries must be handpicked because no one has yet found a way to harvest them by machine, and they must be picked quickly, just after they change from yellow to red. The juice from the red coffee berries stains whatever it touches.
Moving from the hands of the coffee harvesters, the poet contrasts “a long shot” of workers or “ant men/ trudging down the ravine/ with sacks of coffee” with the image of “girls...
(The entire section is 522 words.)