Francis Mateo is an actor and poet based in Washington Heights, New York. Caribbean immigrants who have settled into this area over the decades call the place by another name: "El Alto".
When he came to New York at the age of 17 from the Dominican Republic he could hardly speak English. With some help from ESL courses and writing classes at Manhattan Community College, he found his voice.
Beyond his work as a poet performing with various musical ensembles, Francis is an accomplished stage actor, appearing in acclaimed productions, such as "Love's Labour's Lost" for The Shakespeare Forum, "Romeo and Juliet" for Theater Rats, "King Lear" for The Classical Theater of Harlem, and "Richard III" for The Hudson Shakespeare Company, among others.
Francis' book of poetry is called "Ubre Urbe", and focuses on the Dominican community living within a four-block area in El Alto. "I've been writing a lot about nostalgia and right now it really interests me about behaviors and how we fit in society, in the neighborhood, in our house, and how everything fits around us. And writing about it is like having a dialogue with myself. You have to understand where you are, but that doesn't mean you have to let go of who you are."
Francis says, "This poem 'Homesick' deals with nostalgia and how you can get caught up in it and just lost in it and never really go forward or back. We can really be trapped by it".
I balance myself, being neck and knife;
My experiences are nothing new.
I theorize at a bar in Arden with two-dollar beers,
A jukebox that only plays bachatas,
And a waitress with purple lips
who only pays attention to me when she feels like it.
I drink until the money runs out.
I bet on the latter is certain.
How one escapes nostalgia?
Daily, long distance masturbation.
A hermaphroditic identity,
Gnawers of sea grape and corn kernels doused on sweet milk
at 181st and St. Nicholas...
When asleep they always dream of palm tree huts and Mamajuanas
The culture of a diaspora
mounted on the makeshift seat
right behind the driver of a minibus.