Concrete River by Luis J. Rodriguez Term Paper
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Expressing the despair and despondency of living in an urban center has been the goal of artists since the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th century. Life is different in the city. Life is changed, and as unforgiving as the hardened asphalt on a cool, smelly fall evening. The dreams of youth, and the hopes for a satisfying life are threatened to the brink of extinction in the city, and poets, like Luis Rodriguez, strain to find new metaphors to communicate the mixture of feelings and experiences which the city brings to a life.
In the 19th century, this phenomenon was not as pronounced, because the surrealistic images of television life which was created in the sound studios on the west coast did not exist. In the 19th century, urban life was not as consuming, because most of society was focused on the same task, surviving, and building a better future. However, once the television began to send images of artificial life into homes, and the size and scope of urban centers grew to by a magnitude of 100 times, many inner city and urban dwellers lost their hope of a better future. Life became little more than the constant process of surviving one more day, and creating meaning out of nothing. All the while, the television painted images of ever increasing levels of wealth, and peace. But not in an inner city neighborhood.
Luis Rodriguez's poem The Concrete River is his communication of his experience of the concrete urban habituate. Like the 1960's and 1970's poets described the city as a concrete jungle, Rodriguez picks a metaphor familiar to his heritage, and describes the city
as the surrogate substitution of what would bring life to him, if he lived somewhere else.
We sink into the dust,
Baba and me,
Beneath the brush of prickly leaves;
Ivy strangling trees -- singing
Our last rights of locura.
Homeboys. Worshipping God-fumes
Out of spray cans.
The poet begins by building the parameters of his life. The world is covered with dust, and even the attempt to relax under the shade tree cannot help him escape form the reality of dying -- death. The trees too are having the life strangled out of them by ivy. Yet he is with his friends, homeboys, and they are living for, and bowing down to the only hope they have. Spray paint can fumes are the subject of their homage. They have long since stopped looking for meaning in the concrete world around them, and now bow to the hallucinogenic prosperities of aerosol propellant.
Our backs press up against
A corrugated steel fence
Along dried bank
Of a concrete river.
On walls offer chaos
Of color for the eyes.
Again, the poet strikes his message on the palette of contrasts. A river, which would be the place to gather in a Latin American village, is a concrete wall, or embankment of run off canal. The only source of beauty, or color in the grey, dust covered setting is a continuation of the chaos in which life exists. The color swirls of graffiti on the walls of the buildings are the identification left behind of those looking for identity. Their efforts don't create beauty, or meaning, but add to the chaos of the world around them. The next two stanzas describe the…
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His first response is to ask for the bag again. He wants to go back to the place of hallucinogenic peace. His desire is no longer for the trying to make meaning out of the meaningless of the concrete river. His desire is to return to the place where his life was "licked by the flame"
Luis's description of the meaningless of urban life for a poor Latino could not be more vivid. He says he should be digging his toes in the dirt of a river bank; instead he sucks paint fumes and longs for death.
Espada, M. (ed) 1994. Poetry like Bread. Connecticut:Curbstone press
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