The Only Us That Endures

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Only in the backwoods of Carolina
in the Year of Our Lord, 1982
would the marriage of a 23 year old man
and a 15 year old girl
make sense. And
Without a pregnancy, to boot!
No need for a shotgun

wedding
except we loved before we knew
what love cost,
the price exacted
as that first great flame of crush
burns low, embers left
dying.

You were my person of first things:
First trip to the mall
First dinner in a steakhouse
First trip to a movie theater
to watch romance
complete
its union through Richard
and Debra in An Officer and A Gentleman.

All with you. Before then
I walked through gardens, picked peaches.
Motorcycle gangs and Jack Daniels drinking —
straight from the bottle — rape violence poverty
the three demons of daily existence.

I believed
You could save me
but it would take years to understand
the depth of that damage,
more years to know no one
could save me from myself.
I hated me years before you
with that cold-sterile hatred.

My promise of kindness
like that day I gave you
a shoulder rub, like
our first Christmas shopping
the mall in Charlotte, the night
I sat in the new pink nightgown
beside the Christmas tree and you
said I was beautiful. Then

I wished I could use your eyes
not those dirty broken lenses I owned.
And I wish the children knew now
How much we loved back then —
air to lungs, pulse through blood —
before they became the only us that endures.

Photo Credit: Sophisticate by Richard Young
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Too Poor for Water

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We were always
needing, asking
for something we didn’t have.
Living on the kindness
from strangers —
the church folks
with the a dutiful goal
of giving to those
without.
Wood stove for heat
Water from milk jugs
filled across town.
Too poor for water —
Looking with wonder
at houses where
the normal people
lived —
our outhouse symbolic
one terrace down —
wondering what it
felt like
to wear the normal life
and live in a common town.

Photo Credit: Bear Feet by Robin Lee Vieira

Richard Blanco: Writing the Past in the Present

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I’ve been writing this since
the summer my grandfather

taught me how to hold a blade
of grass between my thumbs
and make it whistle, since
I first learned to make green
from blue and yellow, turned
paper into snowflakes, believed
a seashell echoed the sea,
and the sea had no end.

~from the poem, Since Unfinished by Richard Blanco, in his book, Looking For The Gulf Motel.

Richard Blanco: Looking for The Gulf Motel

Richard Blanco is one of my favorite poets. He has the unique ability to transport readers into the vivid world of his life with simple and effective language. There are no high-brow obscurities or cloudy word association-meaning questions. Rather, Blanco is a poet who paints bright portraits of people and places, a narrator who brings voices with their individual nuances and personalities to life on the page. His poems are memoir vignettes that trigger deep emotions and lasting impressions for the reader.

I first heard Richard Blanco read poetry, like many other Americans, when he read the Blanco3poem, “One Today,” at President Obama’s second Inauguration in 2013. The voice of the poet combined with the simple truth of the poem was entrancing. His reading was a beautiful tribute to the President and the country.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper —
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives —
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem. /…/…

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always–home./…/

“One Today” is standard Blanco, mixing the personal life experiences, the normal and mundane moments that give our days meaning, with the larger aspect of culture and country — the “we” of the now-famous poem a unifying cry.

The second time I heard Richard Blanco read his work was in May of 2014. It was a privilege to hear him in person while attending The Writer’s Institute program at Miami-Dade College in Miami, Florida. He read the title poem from his book, Looking For The Gulf Motel. Again, a unique voice mixing past and present, one and all, in a poem that reaches out to pull the listener into the magic that is Richard Blanco’s world.

A striking aspect of his world in Looking for The Gulf Motel  is its complex duality: Tupperware, cats, and Blow Pops sit opposite being queer in the poem, “Queer Theory: According to My Grandmother.” Then, in the poem, “Venus in Miami Beach,” the eternal ocean opposes the human frailty of aging:

Once, as gorgeous as her name– Geysa
once a girl chasing fireflies who hadn’t lost
her home and country, sisters and husband,
once a mother who watched me as I watch
her now, afraid of her alone with the sea.

Blanco’s Gulf Motel world, as with his other work, is one of diversity and mixture: cultures, Blanco_press_63locations, and experiences are all participants in a complex dance, intertwined with the dual realities that lie at the heart of being human and finite in a world that exists infinite after us.

It is the meticulous decoding of these qualities that reaches beyond the “normal” boundaries of poetry – an eclectic juxtaposition of past and present shared by a voice that knows every inch of it by heart.

Blanco opens his life to us in a way that brings us distinctly into that world. We live the moments with him, experience his love of this America, his closeness and devotion to his family, his confusion at the complexity of life — and the unique challenges that being gay and Cuban create for him. Heart is at the core of Richard Blanco’s writing.

Blanco’s loving heart is exemplified by finely detailed poetic craft. This love creates an articulately expressed depth of sentiment and clarity of emotion rare in American poetry today.

For further reading:

Richard Blanco website

Richard Blanco at Biography.com

Richard Blanco on Facebook

LookingforGulfCvr

untitled 2 (from 2005)

light-graham-dean

To write to you from
this dark place
where lights’ shadow
never rises and
full things don’t exist.

It was easier in
the abundance,
when my souls bounty,
like a garden at harvest,
burst to fullness,
needed emptying –

like a bowl overfilled.
Poems came then, like drops
of honey spilled across a table.

This empty time knows
nothing of words, lines, stanzas.
It cannot produce harvest
from a barren field.
Photography Prints

Photo Credit: Light by Graham Dean

To Save the White Dove (Allegory)

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If I could hold
the gentle white dove
in my hands, keep it safe.
I would.

Hold that fragile innocence
at my chest, to my heart,
wipe away the ugliness
of the butchering world.

If I could quietly speak
of the similarity of spirit,
laugh with this precious child
dropped down from heaven.
I would.

No the day says. No!
These things are beyond
the power you hold.
Yours only — the choice
to push it from you,
throw it to the skies.

Pray flight comes
easily or do
nothing and watch
the future cruel death
at the hands
of psychic slaughter.

Yes the day says. Yes!
The smaller of cruelties
to stop the slow-burning pain,
that great shadow-darkness
of disillusionment —

I would
let the child remain a dove
for a little while longer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~Art Credit: Inner Peace by Jane Small at Fine Art America.

Photography Prints

Divorce

Broken Love

We talk
and there remains
a tension, friction
of what we
once meant
to each other.
More in common
now than then –

We share
two children,
four grandchildren –
a silver chain of being
links us still –
Regrets obvious
as we talk
while
the children watch –
shocked by the lack of
argument.

Did we really hate
each other so much? Or,
was it more about
how deeply
we hated ourselves?

Oil and water
from two different worlds –
Shared stubbornness
our greatest commonality.

Married once, in love
with the idea of
each other — the cold reality,
that we were just children
haunts me still.

We’re growing older
and it is easier
to talk about
what we never were,
things we tried to be,
all we had to kill.
That mutual cold death
of ending
that set us free.

~written February 2011

Photo Credit: Broken Love by analil.deviantart.com