President Barack Obama selected Richard Blanco to recite an original poem during inaugural ceremonies at the Capitol on Monday. Mr. Blanco, 44, was conceived in Cuba, born in Spain and raised in Miami, where his mother was a bank teller, his father a bookkeeper. His first and third books, "City of a Hundred Fires" (1998) and "Looking for the Gulf Motel" (2012) were published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
My Father, My Hands
My father gave me these hands, fingers inch-wide and muscular like his, the same folds of skin like squinted eyes looking back at me whenever I wash my hands in the kitchen sink and remember him washing garden dirt off his, or helping my mother dry the dishes every night. These are his fingernails -- square, flat -- ten small mirrors I look into and see him signing my report card, or mixing batter for our pancakes on Sunday mornings. His same whorls of hair near my wrists, magnetic lines that pull me back to him tying my shoelaces, pointing at words as I learned to read, and years later: greasy hands teaching me to change the oil in my car, immaculate hands showing me how to tie my necktie. These are his knuckles -- rising, falling like hills between my veins -- his veins, his pulse at my wrist under the watch he left for me ticking since his death, alive when I hold another man's hand and remember mine around his thumb through the carnival at Tamiami Park, how he lifted me up on his shoulders, his hands wrapped around my ankles keeping me steady above the world, still.
"My Father, My Hands" from "Looking for the Gulf Motel" by Richard Blanco, (C) 2012. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press and Stuart Bernstein Representative for Artists.
Burning in the Rain
Someday compassion would demand I set myself free of my desire to recreate my father, indulge in my mother's losses, strangle lovers with words, forcing them to confess for me and take the blame. Today was that day: I tossed them, sheet by sheet on the patio and gathered them into a pyre. I wanted to let them go in a blaze, tiny white dwarfs imploding beside the azaleas and ficus bushes, let them crackle, burst like winged seeds, let them smolder into gossamer embers -- a thousand gray butterflies in the wind. Today was that day, but it rained, kept raining. Instead of fire, water -- drops knocking on doors, wetting windows into mirrors reflecting me in the oaks. The garden walls and stones swelling into ghostlier shades of themselves, the wind chimes giggling in the storm, a coffee cup left overflowing with rain. Instead of burning, my pages turned into water lilies floating over puddles, then tiny white cliffs as the sun set, finally drying all night under the moon into papier-mâché souvenirs. Today the rain would not let their lives burn.
From richard-blanco.com, reprinted by permission of the author, Richard Blanco, (C) 2011. This poem appeared in the Dec. 29, 2011, issue of The New Republic.
La Revolucion at Antonio's Mercado
Para la santera, Esperanza, who makes me open new boxes of candles so she can pick out the red ones, the color of Chango, her protector spirit, and tutors me in the ways of all the spirits: Elegua, Ochun, Yemaya,
Para Josie on welfare, who sells me her food stamps for cash because she can't buy cocoa butter soaps, Coca-Cola, or disposable diapers with them,
Para la Senora Vidal and her husband who came early in the 50s before la Revolucion, own the famous Matador Grille on Eighth Street, helped those who came later, who give me two-dollar tips when I double bag,
Para Elena who makes me sort through cartfuls of avocados to find the best one, her nostalgia-coated tongue complains that the fruit here can't compare to the fruit back home -- where the sugar was sweeter, the salt saltier,
Para Juan Galdo who remains unsatisfied with the flavor of los tabacos de Honduras,
Para Mrs. Benitez the only regular who buys broccoli, who takes English night class and asks me to check her homework,
Para Pepe who asks me to translate his insurance statements, immigration papers, and junk mail offers for "free" vacations in Mexico,
Para the cashier, Consuelo, who wants me to teach her daughter, Maria, English and love, and wants me to escort Maria to her Quinces debutante,
Para Migdalia Sanchez who forgets some labels are now bilingual and comes to me confused when she mistakenly tries to read the English side of the can,
Para la vieja Gomez who I help sort through dimes, quarters, and nickels -- American change she has never learned to count,
Para los americanos who are scared of us, especially when we talk real loud and all at the same time, who come in only for change or to call a tow truck,
Para los haitianos who like us because at least we are Caribbean neighbors,
Para Pablito who likes his boiled ham sliced paper-thin like the after-school snacks his mother prepared for him before she was accused and sentenced,
Para Juanita who had to leave Enrique, her only son, in '61, who carries in her sequined coin purse a scratchy photo of herself at fifteen to remind herself she is still alive, and shows it to me so I can acknowledge her lost beauty,
Para Carlos who comes in mid-mornings, leans against the cafeteria counter drunk with delusion, takes a swig of espresso like a shot of whiskey and tells me la Revolucion will die before the end of the year, who hopes to host Noche Buena at his house near Havana, next year,
Para la Revolucion, todos sus grandes triunfos, toda su gloria,
Para Vicente my best friend, who sneaked beers with me behind the green Dumpster, who taught me how to say really gross things in Spanish, who couldn't get his family out, who had only me in the States, who put a bullet through his neck on the day of his anniversary, who left a note addressed to me in Spanish -- "Para mi amigo."
"La Revolucion at Antonio's Mercado" from "City of a Hundred Fires" by Richard Blanco, (C) 1998. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.