The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Martín Espada’s “Latin Night at the Pawnshop” is a short lyric poem of nine lines divided into two stanzas. The first stanza consists of merely three lines, while the second stanza consists of six. Under the title, Espada indicates that the poem is of a particular time and place by stating “Chelsea, Massachusetts/ Christmas, 1987.” The poem was inspired by a specific event, a specific vision. Espada happened to be passing the “Liberty Loan/ pawnshop” in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on the Thursday before Christmas, and a flood of images rushed into his consciousness. It was his usual routine to walk from his law office to the district court in Chelsea. Thursdays at the district court are considered “eviction day.” On this particular day, Espada took the time to look in the pawnshop window and noticed the musical instruments inside. It would take months, however, before Espada was able to turn this mere glance into a moving poem.

The opening stanza introduces “The apparition of a salsa band.” This salsa band is “gleaming in the Liberty Loan/ pawnshop window.” Born to Puerto Rican immigrants himself, the poet is struck by the instruments that are in the window. There is a “Golden trumpet,” a “silver trombone,” “congas,” “maracas,” and a “tambourine.” These instruments made vibrant music in the past, but they are now relegated to a pawnshop in Massachusetts with “price tags dangling.” For the poet, the price tags...

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Throughout Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands, Espada writes powerfully about how hardworking Latinos have toiled without much recognition for their efforts. He also writes movingly and boldly about how discrimination has forced millions of Latinos to live in poverty and to not fully realize their potentials. The opening image of a salsa band as an “apparition” gives “Latin Night at the Pawnshop” a dreamlike introduction. Knowing that the poem takes place during the Christmas season only adds to its mystical nature. While the traditional images of Christmas usually include carolers or Santa Claus spreading good cheer, Espada is struck by a salsa band having been relegated to a pawnshop.

To the poet, this band is “gleaming” in the window. For one reason or another, these beautiful instruments have been discarded. Someone may have been in desperate need of ready cash and, therefore, had to part with one or more of these precious musical instruments. The trumpet may be “Golden” and the trombone may be “silver,” but it is of no matter at this point in time, at this particular Christmas season. There is no telling how long the instruments have had to languish in the pawnshop, but they were perhaps pawned so that a Latino family could have a holiday meal, pay the rent, or bail a loved one out of jail. While these speculations may seem wild or off-base to the reader, these are the typical issues that Espada raises in his...

(The entire section is 459 words.)