Tú con él
Along with invitations to appear on German or Japanese radio programs, Miguel Algarín would often invite poets from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe to visit his creative writing classes at Rutgers University. On the day that I visited, I met Miguel by the Alamo, or "The Cube" on Astor Place in the East Village. I still remember what he ordered from Starbucks that morning: an almond croissant and a cappuccino. On the ride to New Jersey, he pointed out the industrial landscape of New Jersey: towers, train yards, smokestacks, loadings cranes, and didn't understand how anyone could find New Jersey toxic as he brought the shapes and colors of the state to life. I often wonder if he was trying to work out a metaphor for love, which he would always say was "hard work." To this day, when I'm on the New Jersey Turnpike or taking an Amtrak train to Boston or DC, I think of Algarín and how he put his poet's eye to work that morning. After the class, he would take the visiting poet out to an early dinner, which was accompanied by a bottle of wine or a few beers, and Miguel would field all my questions about the early years of the Nuyorican School of Poetry, about Lucky Cienfuegos, the legend of Shorty Bon Bon, the day he and Mikey met William Burroughs or “Willy B” or his interest in Shakespeare, and he would tell tale after tale. I was looking for anecdotes to accompany Nuyorican lore, lineages to a tradition that I proudly claimed. The ride back to New York City was death-defying. Algarín blasted Frankie Ruiz's “Tú con él” as he jumped dividers at almost 80 miles per hour and then looked at me and smiled that cherubic, but mischievous smile. He paid me when we arrived back at “The Cube” and drove off. Algarín (as are most of us Nuyorican Poets) was a literary outlaw, and like Hamlet, which he could recite by act, he knew that two crafts can meet in one line because sometimes it just be that way.
Willie Perdomo is the author of Smoking Lovely: The Remix, The Crazy Bunch, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon, and Where a Nickel Costs a Dime. Winner of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Cy Twombly Award for Poetry and the PEN Open Book Award, Perdomo was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Poetry Society of America Norma Farber First Book Award. He teaches at Phillips Exeter Academy.