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.)