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About this poet

Judith Ortíz Cofer was born in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico on February 24, 1952. She was raised on the island and in Paterson, New Jersey, before her family finally settled in Augusta, Georgia. She received her B.A. in English from Augusta College in 1974, and her M.A. in English from Florida Atlantic University, and did graduate work at Oxford University in 1977. Her collections of poetry include: The Year of Our Revolution: New and Selected Stories and Poems (1998), winner of the Paterson Book Prize given by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College; The Latin Deli: Prose & Poetry (1993), winner of the Anisfield Wolf Book Award; Terms of Survival (1989), Reaching for the Mainland (1987), and Latin Women Pray (1980). Cofer is also the author of essays, fiction, and prose, and her work has been published in numerous anthologies. Her young adult book An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (1996) has received several distinctions, including The American Library Association Reforma Pura Belpre Medal and the Fanfare Best Book of the Year award.

Cofer's awards and honors include grants from the Georgia Council for the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry, the University of Georgia Humanities Center, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, The Florida Fine Arts Council, and the Janet Rice Memorial Fellowship from Florida Atlantic University. She is currently the Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, and an associate staff member of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

The Pleasures of Fear

Judith Ortíz Cofer, 1952
We played a hiding game,
the son of my mother's friend and I,
until he chased me into the toolshed
and bolted the door from outside. It was there,
in the secret, moist dark, the child's game changed
to adventure. As I listened through the splintered wood
to his ragged breath, his weight pressing down
on the thin wood, making it groan, waiting
while I stood on the other side, I was
caught in time, thrilled and afraid by his power,
by his power to strike, and mine to yield.

I crouched close to the ground
inhaling the sour-sweet potpourri of rancid oil,
rotting wood, old leather, and rust. I could have died
right then and there, of anticipation,
and become one with the molecules
in the laden air. I was deliciously afraid of all
the invisible creeping, crawling dangers inhabiting
the luscious ground where I squatted to pee,
allowing impulse and need to fully overtake me,
inviting all the demons that reside in dark damp
hiding places into my most secret self.

Not since then has pleasure and fear in the dark
been so finely tuned in my mind, except perhaps
in moments of passion when all we know
is surrendered to the demands of skin and blood.

Then the pizzicato of the predictable afternoon shower
on that half remembered island, rain every day at four,
and her piercing voice, growing nearer,
the cutting slash of light. She had caught the boy
peeking through a crack at me doing what?
She did not want to know.

I was sent straight to the bath, as if
the delectable stink of danger I had discovered
could ever be washed off with plain soap and water.

Copyright © 2005 Judith Ortiz Cofer. From A Love Story Beginning in Spanish. Reprinted with permission of the University of Georgia Press.

Copyright © 2005 Judith Ortiz Cofer. From A Love Story Beginning in Spanish. Reprinted with permission of the University of Georgia Press.

Judith Ortíz Cofer

Judith Ortíz Cofer was born in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico in 1952. She