Sometimes it takes something that goes beyond simply reading to find the spark for your next poem. I have now completed my first year of graduate student course work (which means I am 50% done!), and to celebrate, I decided that I would give myself a day or two to breath and rejoice about being free from deadlines, responsibilities—and even reading, after finishing up an intense literature course. But during what I considered my first “day off” after the school year, I remembered that as a poet, my brain never shuts down fully. It will always be pumping out new ideas for new poems that I inevitably write in the notes section of my phone.
For my “day off” I decided to try a new food place that is within walking distance from my house, a place that’s been the rave of a few people that I know: Nini’s Deli, located on 543 N. Noble St., Chicago, IL 60642. Although I was told that it was a popular place, I did not realize how popular it actually was: regular folks looking for Latinx cuisine, skinny-jean hipsters, and your typical corporate guys all waited in same line of this tiny shop that does not offer much seating, and forbids anyone (and their friends) from sitting down at any of tables until they have ordered and paid for the food.
I was pretty impressed with what I saw, and the merengue music played in the background. It was not until I received my drink and food that I felt my brain click back on and into its creative mode, which was followed by the twitch of my thumbs that were eager to begin typing ideas and first drafts of poems littered with typos into my phone.
As many from my cohort can tell you, food has been one of the themes of my poems over the last year, so it only makes sense that I gained an idea by simply looking at this masterpiece of a cafe con leche. For the most part, all my food poems have been about the crossover of my family’s cultures, as I am half Mexican and half Puerto Rican. My writing shows the importance of certain dishes and food items that hold symbols of heritage and intimacy—I even have a poem that describes my grandmother instructing me on how to flip tortillas on the oven burner. I became particularly intrigued by this cafe con leche because to me, it seemed like a crossover between a Latinx staple and Starbucks—only more authentic. If that was not already inspirational enough, my mind went full speed after my meal.
These brought me back to the childhood memories of my grandmother once more, such as those times where she would spend a whole day making empanadas from scratch, rolling several pieces of dough for hours on end. The memory that I was brought back to will definitely be making its way into one my of poems soon. It is just a matter of when and how.