What is most striking about the poem Black Hair by Soto is its praise of what the poet considers to be beautiful. The poet is concerned with transmitting a feeling of an aesthetic power in his poem. The fact that the poem itself is related to a description of a baseball player is therefore merely a starting point that allows Soto to explore images of what he considers to be beautiful. This means the entirety of the scenery which he is describing, as he colors his work with poetic imagery to present to the reader an aesthetically appealing scene which captured his thoughts and compelled him to write.
This is immediately clear at the outset of the poem, as Soto makes mention of the splendor of the human form: “At eight I was brilliant with my body/In July, that ring of heat.” Soto here is painting a picture through imagery: one is reminded of the agility and energy of youth, which is here placed in the setting of a July day. This is familiar to most readers: the times of care-free summer holidays and the freedom that is expressed in these times. The freedom of the summer is thus paralleled by Soto in the freedom of the movements of the human body. In both cases, Soto is celebrating freedom and therefore celebrating a beauty he connects with this freedom: for he is clearly providing an interpretation that exalts this entire scene.
Soto’s poem has the subject of watching a baseball game. But Soto is clear in his poem that this is not the focus: “The game before us was more than baseball. It was a figure—Hector Moreno.” Soto is portraying an enthusiastic picture of life itself: that baseball is the setting for his description is irrelevant, but merely a manifestation of this beauty. In much the same way Hector Moreno becomes himself an image in the poem: the personality is itself irrelevant, what is instead important is the impression he makes upon the poet. Moreno is vitality and life personified: the poet dedicates himself to portraying this vitality in so far as he finds it to be beautiful. There is no cynicism in Soto’s adulation: instead, he seems entirely committed to faithfully recreating the feeling of aesthetic sublimity that he experienced in watching the scene described in the poem.
Soto’s poem takes a more social turn in the following stanza, as he recounts his autobiography, comparing himself with Moreno: “What could I do with 50 pounds, my shyness,/My black torch of hair, about to go out?” Here, the poet belittles himself in comparison to Moreno. But this is only a superficial reading. The contrasting imagery of Moreno and the poet brings them together, to the extent that the poet is describing how he himself views himself in Moreno: Moreno is something like an idealized imagery of aesthetic power. But the fact that the poet is privy to witnessing this power and can also appreciate it brings him into its range. The poet here in this imagery also has an aesthetic power since he can sense the aesthetic power in other things: this is why one writes poetry in Soto’s view, that is, to chronicle the beautiful. The pre-condition for this chronicling is understanding what is beautiful, appreciating it.
This is clear in the imagery of unification at the end of the poem. As Hector hits a home run, Soto notes that “in my mind I rounded/the bases/With him, my face flared, my hair lifting/Beautifully, because we were coming home to the arms of brown people.” Soto becomes one with Moreno in this imagery: he also emphasizes the beauty of this scene. Certainly, there is a reference, in the imagery of “brown people” to specifically Hispanic culture. But this perhaps is only imagery that can be used to express a community, applicable to all communities. Soto is instead communicating the experience of a shared beauty without distinctions, just like in the imagery of him rounding the bases with Moreno, there is no distinction between Soto the observer and Moreno the athlete.
Accordingly, Soto takes us to a mundane baseball game, and turns it into an aesthetic event. His use of imagery means to celebrate the beauty of a simple day. It is also a text dedicated to a unity described in experiencing this beauty together, as his imagery emphasizes throughout the course of the poem.
- Soto, Gary. “Black Hair.”