This month’s “A Favorite Poem” issue is none other from Peruvian-born poet Orlando Ricardo Menes, whose life is heavily-influenced by his Latino roots (from his Cuban parents and childhood in Spain). Titled “El Rastro,” Menes’ poem details his experiences growing up in Spain with its wild, hedonistic night life for the young adults (and the young at heart).
El Rastro (by Orlando Ricardo Menes)
South of Plaza Mayor by Plaza de Cascorro—
past streets named Lettuce, Raisin, Barley—
is Madrid’s outdoor market called El Rastro,
hundreds of stalls, lean-tos, tents squeezed tight
as niches where anything from a clawfoot tub,
to a surgeon’s saw to a tattered La Celestina
bound in sheepskin could be haggled down
with raunchy bravado or the promise of beer.
Mostly it was junk passed off to the tourists
as pricey souvenirs, like plastic castanets, hand fans
of silk (rayon really), or tin-plate doubloons.
So what drew the youth of Madrid to this place
every Sunday afternoon by the hundreds?
None of us were bargain hunters or hoarders,
just hippieish kids in patched dungarees,
espadrilles, & wool coats frayed to cheesecloth,
our pockets with enough pesetas to buy
a handful of stale cigarettes. It was to revel
in life, squeeze out joy from the lees of fate,
make fellowship like pilgrims to a shrine.
We’d sprawl against a wall or a lamppost
long into the afternoon to talk, joke, carouse,
eat cheese rinds with secondhand bread,
drink wine more like iodine than merlot,
oblivious to time & space, the crowds tripping
on our legs, tossing butts into our heads,
how they smelled like horses & we told them so,
who then shot out crude medieval curses,
but we didn’t care, for we felt alive as never before,
singular in every breath, word, & thought,
stubborn as wayward seeds that trick a drought
& grow into hardscrabble woodland trees.
Personally, I enjoy the free-verse, almost stream-of-consciousness type of the poems out there, and Menes’ is no exception. In fact, I greatly enjoy the details of what the speaker is experiencing, from buying “a handful of stale cigarettes” to eating “cheese rinds with secondhand bread/drink wine more like iodine than merlot.” From what I observed, it’s not only of the speaker’s European upbringing during childhood, but also what any foreigner could understand. I especially can see plenty of young, early-twenties college students studying abroad in Spain or France and doing what the speaker in Menes’ poem is doing.
I admit, I used to do what the speaker in “El Rastro” is doing, back when I studied abroad in Paris during my third year of university. I was young, naive, and I wanted to try it all, from eating to drinking to meeting new people. Definitely brings a romantic, European atmosphere to it, and that’s why I especially resonated with this particular poem upon reading it a month or so ago.
Feel free to give it a try. Otherwise, have a good day!
— The Finicky Cynic
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