Latino Heritage Month: Miguel Piñero

Miguel Piñero (1946-1988) entered this world in the belly of U.S. empire, the island of Puerto Rico.  Like almost half of the island’s population, he and his family migrated to New York in the 1950s, settling in the urban jungle of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  A child of the streets, who started getting into gangs and drugs and crime at an early age, Piñero was in and out of the juvenile justice system, his formal preparation for an adult life in prison.

At the age of 25, while serving a sentence at Sing Sing, he wrote a play, Short Eyes, as part of a prison writing workshop.  When he got out, two years later, it was performed at famed Riverside Church, where it caught the eye of a noted producer. When the play opened on Broadway, Piñero seemed an overnight success.  It was nominated for six Tony Awards, and it garnered the New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and the Obie.

It became a move, Piñero a part-time actor and full-time writer. With others he started the famed Nuyorican Poets Café, perhaps the single greatest institutional effort behind the poetic movement today called “slam” poetry.  He was a poet, a playwright, and a screenplay writer for TV and film. But he was also a junkie, a drinker, a child of the pain and violence of which he wrote.  He died in 1988, of cirrhosis.

His words live on.

___________________________________________

A LOWER EAST SIDE POEM (1980)

Just once before I die
I want to climb up on a
tenement sky
to dream my lungs out till
I cry
then scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.

So let me sing my song tonight
let me feel out of sight
and let all eyes be dry
when they scatter my ashes thru
the Lower East Side.

From Houston to 14th Street
from Second Avenue to the mighty D
here the hustlers & suckers meet
the faggots and freaks will all get
high
on the ashes that have been scattered
thru the Lower East Side.

There’s no other place for me to be
there’s no other place that I can see
there’s no other town around that
brings you up or keeps you down
no food little heat sweeps by
fancy cars & pimps’ bars & juke saloons
& greasy spoons make my spirits fly
with my ashes scattered thru the
Lower East Side.

A thief, a junkie I’ve been
committed every known sin
Jews and Gentiles. . . Bums and Men
of style. . . run away child
police shooting wild. . .

mother’s futile wail. . . pushers
making sales. . . dope wheelers
& cocaine dealers. . . smoking pot
streets are hot & feed off those who bleed to
death. . .

all that’s true
all that’s true
all that is true
but this ain’t no lie
when I ask that my ashes be scattered thru
the Lower East Side.

So here I am, look at me
I stand proud as you can see
pleased to be from the Lower East
a street fighting man
a problem of this land
I am the Philosopher of the Criminal Mind
a dweller of prison time
a cancer of Rockefeller’s ghettocide
this concrete tomb is my home
to belong to survive you gotta be strong
you can’t be shy less without request
someone will scatter your ashes thru
the Lower East Side.

I don’t wanna be buried in Puerto Rico
I don’t wanna rest in long island cemetery
I wanna be near the stabbing shooting
gambling fighting & unnatural dying
& new birth crying
so please when I die. . .
don’t take me far away
keep me near by
take my ashes and scatter them thru out
the Lower East Side. . .

Please feel free to share your thoughts below…

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5 Responses to Latino Heritage Month: Miguel Piñero

  1. Chairman of the Board says:

    Piñero is one of my all time favorites!! Here are two more:

    The Book of Genesis According to St. Miguelito

    Before the beginning
    God created God
    In the beginning
    God created the ghettos & slums
    and God saw this was good.
    So God said,
    “Let there be more ghettos & slums”
    and there were more ghettos & slums.
    But God saw this was plain
    so
    to decorate it
    God created leadbase paint and then
    God commanded the rivers of garbage & filth
    to flow gracefully through the ghettos.
    On the third day
    because on the second day God was out of town
    On the third day
    God’s nose was running
    & his jones was coming down and God
    in his all knowing wisdom
    knew he was sick
    he needed a fix
    so God
    created the backyards of the ghettos
    & the alleys of the slums
    in heroin & cocaine
    and
    with his divine wisdom & grace
    God created hepatitis
    who begat lockjaw
    who begat malaria
    who begat degradation
    who begat
    GENOCIDE
    and God knew this was good
    in fact God knew things couldn’t git better
    but he decided to try anyway
    On the fourth day
    God was riding around Harlem in a gypsy cab
    when he created the people
    and he created these beings in ethnic proportion
    but he saw the people lonely & hungry
    and from his eminent rectum
    he created a companion for these people
    and he called this companion
    capitalism
    who begat racism
    who begat exploitation
    who begat male chauvinism
    who begat machismo
    who begat imperialism
    who begat colonialism
    who begat wall street
    who begat foreign wars
    and God knew
    and God saw
    and God felt this was extra good
    and God said
    VAYAAAAAAA
    On the fifth day
    the people kneeled
    the people prayed
    the people begged
    and this manifested itself in a petition
    a letter to the editor
    to know why? WHY? WHY? qué pasa babyyyyy?????
    and God said,
    “My fellow subjects
    let me make one thing perfectly clear
    by saying this about that:
    NO . . .. . .. . ..COMMENT!”
    but on the sixth day God spoke to the people
    he said . . . “PEOPLE!!!
    the ghettos & the slums
    & all the other great things I’ve created
    will have dominion over thee
    and then
    he commanded the ghettos & slums
    and all the other great things he created
    to multiply
    and they multiplied
    On the seventh day God was tired
    so he called in sick
    collected his overtime pay
    a paid vacation included
    But before God got on that t. w. a.
    for the sunny beaches of Puerto Rico
    He noticed his main man Satan
    planting the learning trees of consciousness
    around his ghetto edens
    so God called a news conference
    on a state of the heavens address
    on a coast to coast national t. v. hook up
    and God told the people
    to be
    COOL
    and the people were cool
    and the people kept cool
    and the people are cool
    and the people stay cool
    and God said
    Vaya . .…

    and another one of Pinero’s classics….

    “Seekin’ the Cause”

    he was Dead
    he never Lived
    died
    died
    he died seekin’ a Cause
    seekin’ the Cause
    because
    he said
    he never saw the cause
    but he heard
    the cause
    heard the cryin’ of hungry ghetto children
    heard the warnin’ from Malcolm
    heard the tractors pave new routes to new prisons
    died seekin’ the Cause
    seekin’ a Cause
    he was dead on arrival
    he never really Lived
    uptown . . . downtown . . . crosstown
    body was round all over town
    seekin’ the Cause
    thinkin’ the Cause was 75 dollars & gator shoes
    thinkin’ the Cause was sellin’ the white lady to black
    children
    thinkin’ the cause is to be found in gypsy rose or j. b.
    or dealin’ wacky weed
    and singin’ du-wops in the park after some chi-chiba
    he died seekin’ the Cause
    died seekin’ a Cause
    and the Cause was dyin’ seekin’ him
    and the Cause was dyin’ seekin’ him
    and the Cause was dyin’ seekin’ him
    he wanted a color t. v.
    wanted a silk on silk suit
    he wanted the Cause to come up like the mets & take the
    world series
    he wanted . . . he wanted . . . he wanted . . . he wanted
    to want more wants
    but
    he never gave
    he never gave
    he never gave his love to children
    he never gave his heart to old people
    &
    never did he ever give his soul to his people
    he never gave his soul to his people
    because he was busy seekin’ a cause
    busy
    busy perfectin’ his voice to harmonize the national anthem
    with spiro t agnew
    busy perfectin’ his jive talk so that his flunkiness
    wouldn’t show
    busy perfectin’ his viva-la-policia speech
    downtown . . . uptown . . . midtown . . . crosstown
    his body was found all over town
    seekin’ a Cause
    seekin’ the Cause
    found
    in the potter fields of an o. d.
    found
    in the bowery with the d. d. t.’s
    his legs were left in viet-nam
    his arms were found in sing-sing
    his scalp was on Nixon’s belt
    his blood painted the streets of the ghetto
    his eyes were still lookin’ for jesus to come down
    on some cloud & make everything ok
    when jesus died in attica
    his brains plastered all around the frames of the pentagon
    his voice still yellin’ stars & stripes 4 ever
    riddled with the police bullets his taxes bought
    he died seekin’ a Cause
    seekin’ the Cause
    while the Cause was dyin’ seekin’ him
    he died yesterday
    he’s dyin’ today
    he’s dead tomorrow
    died seekin’ a Cause
    died seekin’ the Cause
    & the Cause was in front of him
    & the Cause was in his skin
    & the Cause was in his speech
    & the Cause was in his blood
    but
    he died seekin’ the Cause
    he died seekin’ a Cause
    he died
    deaf
    dumb
    &
    blind
    he died
    & never found his Cause
    because
    you see he never never
    knew that he was the
    Cause.

  2. Thanks for sharing this tribute to Miguel Piñero, Tomas.

    Another reason why I follow your blog.

    Best regards,
    Raul

  3. Literanista says:

    Wow, thank you for posting this – that picture is haunting!

  4. Jakey says:

    so rad! He makes my heart pound louder.

  5. Pingback: Speaking of Being Literary : Barbara Jane Reyes

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