The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica

by Judith Ortiz Cofer

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Who is the speaker of "The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica" and what do we know about them?

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Judith Ortiz Cofer’s poem, “The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica,” is narrated in the third person. The speaker, as such, has no obviously distinct personality,but merely describes a scene for us objectively—an observer rather than a participant. The speaker’s tone is thus mostly matter-of-fact, although there are moments when the speaker seems fond of, and has affection for, the woman being described.

In the poem, the speaker describes a woman who works at the eponymous “Latin Deli.” This woman is of “no-age” and “was never pretty.” She provides comfort for her customers because she speaks Spanish and because she has a “look of maternal interest.” She also has an “understanding” smile. These descriptions imply that the speaker has a fondness for the woman being described.

Towards the end of the poem, the speaker also seems to evoke sympathy for the customers who visit the deli. The speaker describes customers who come to speak to one another of their “dreams and their disillusions.” One of these customers is a “fragile old man lost in the folds / of his winter coat.” All of the customers, this old man included, seem to very much miss their native countries. They search the deli for products from those countries, as if the products will help appease their homesickness. They long, it seems, to return to “places that now exist only in their hearts.”

In summary, what we can infer about the identity of the speaker, from the tone of the poem, is that he or she seems to be sympathetic towards the customers and affectionate towards the woman who works at the deli.

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