Richard Blanco: Writing the Past in the Present

Blanco2

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

The Class War Rages in America

RE-POST FROM APRIL 2011…

“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?“      ~Soren Kierkegaard

venice_masque

We are the author of our own personal truth. We make daily decisions, as the creator, designing and constructing the platform-frame as a foundation to which we attach our personality, build a narrative history, and create a legacy that becomes the unique remembrance of us in the world. We do this as individuals and as the United States of America.

Nationally, as Americans, we love to believe in theAmerican Dream – that anyone can become anything, rising above circumstances and limitations, to become an American success story.  Our history is one of dreamers and dreams being born and flourishing. Our soil grows an independent fighting Spirit that makes us seek more and better; each new generation shoving past its predecessor to become smarter, brighter, stronger, richer, and happier.This is the promise we have cherished since becoming a nation; a promise believed to be our great Destiny. We are a nation built on hope, individuality, and dreams.

But, times are changing, and as New Americans we live in a time of masks. Our politicians are primarily a collective of hidden faces behind picturesque disguises, the national economy still tragically caught within a depression that is masked by the title recession, and numerous negative sociological and cultural changes ignored and denied as non-existent boogey-monsters imagined by an uneducated and panicky lower-class public. The American Dream still applies to 1% of the population, but what about the 99% who have trouble sleeping and haven’t dreamed in years?

Class Levels and the Battle for Education

America has always been a land of class division as much as she would deny it. However, not since the years of open slavery has the schism between the rich and poor been so great. The classes continue to grow in distance from one another, with the realities of one class being almost incomprehensible to the other class. At the heart of these different realities lies education.

The poorer classes traditionally are less educated and less literate than the more prosperous classes. The recent cuts in public school budgets for arts and sciences, the teacher downsizing and layoffs in the public schools, and the current trend toward staff reductions and closing of public libraries is obviously more detrimental to the poor. Likewise, when the fear of government shut-downs were discussed, it was the military and public parks that faced pay cuts and closures – both of which are utilized by and filled with people of poor to modest incomes. The rich seldom need to use these services or join our military forces.

The money and privilege of the higher classes provides advantages beyond what the “average” American can afford. High crime rates, violent acts during a crime, and major drug use are often directly traceable to lack of education and trauma in the home. Deprivation of basic resources and a sense of stability and security, along with unhealthy self-esteem, creates an unbalanced psyche that leans toward mental illness, drug use, and violent crime. While the answer may not be to throw money at the problems once they’ve reached that stage; certainly, no one would deny that our society benefits from educating our children, teaching them to be productive, ensuring that all children have their basic needs met, and are provided a good, basic education.

Education is like medical care: those with higher incomes and more disposable money will always be able to purchase both commodities. Those without the funds to do so lose the foundation of opportunity. We create a society in which violence thrives because higher education, critical thinking, logic and problem solving have not been taught. Instead, people take what they want by forces believing that to be the only way they’ll ever have it. Lack of opportunity, inequality, and jealousy creates violent men and women.

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In recent years, our public education system has fallen terribly short of its objectives – we do need review and changes. However, cutting teacher pay, laying-off teachers, and increasing class size are not forward-moving steps. Rather, these are antiquated methods that lock doors to keep certain people (classes) “in their place.” An uninformed and uneducated public is also a less powerful public. But, we must beware, because history shows that mob rule becomes the norm when people cannot find voice or power any other way.

Who is the 99% ?

There’s a wonderful article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, in this month’s Vanity Fair, titled, “Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,” that explores the inequality in wealth and class in America. According to Stiglitz:

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent….While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.

This is a staggering truth – the numbers don’t lie. The rich run the country through wealth and power, and the middle class IS shrinking. Stiglitz goes on to examine this situation in depth, looking at the ruling class and politicians, at current reinforcing rules, and at what this means for America as time passes. In closing he explains a basic truth often forgotten by those in power: As a nation, the fate of the 1 percent and the fate of the 99 percent is intricately knotted together.

The 99 percent could be called the “average Americans.” The men and women who work a job in construction, food service, plants or warehouses, service industries, and myriad other “blue and white collar” jobs. The 1 percent are the politicians, the IT millionaires, the privileged dynasty families, and the other top power brokers in our nation. The 1 percent, like the mythical comments of the French queen, may very well say “let them eat cake,” as the lower classes starve. Again, history teaches us valuable lessons about the abject distance between the two classes and the violence that is possible when the rich and powerful men forget that the poor man has a destiny entwined with his own.

There is Still A Pond

emerge-mia-tavonatti

There is still a pond there thirty-six years later.
The trees still exist – those I walked by, sat under
In the cold-gray days of childhood solitude.

The country-farmer land and red-ore dirt
still dominate that world like old sentries
standing guard between past and present.
Only the warm bodies, soft voices are gone.

Going back to the town – to the memories – I
visited with the ghosts of my beginnings.
Thought: So this is it.
This is my experience of coming home.

There were no parties, no Sunday picnics
to welcome me. There was only the land
and it’s trees and water, blue sky over mountains.
There was no blackberry cobbler, no strawberry cake.

Only the same roads I learned to drive on.
A new grandchild born in the same hospital
where my daughter was born,
where I first breathed in life. Origin.

The mountains haven’t changed.
They stand quietly watching the valley
filled with third-generation human drama.
Years ago, when I drove away to bigger cities,
some of the old folks were still living.

Time slipped by — years. They slipped away
into some dark unknown-other existence.
I searched for them in the water,
but could see only me clearly –
a shimmering reflection in the pond.

In the clear-white water of childhood
a little blonde-haired girl, green eyes shining,
fueled by curiosity, driven by a desperate need
to seek out Other.

To see and know the wider world –
to see and know myself. Leaving
the ghosts of other days
gently whispering in unison
goodbye again as I drove away.

~Photo Credit: Emerge by Mia Tavonatti
Art Prints

funeral song (for my mema 2001)

on-the-bridge-joana-kruse

ego-separation from the letting-go
is the last phase of loss.

solemn-silence is declared.
it will not lift, it can not lift
until vision clarifies.

imagine the world as a new
place created and transformed by
the without, adjusted perception
looks for meaning
submerged in the pain,
seeks solace from a fragmented spirit
that clings to us in absence.

each lost thing claims
a part of our souls
perfection
unravels the lies we hide
inside ourselves

leaving us
bare and jaggedly grieved.

we becomes
the creation of losses
evolves into shards of recovery.

stimulated by grieving
we acknowledge
the mirrors reflection –
our souls love for others.

Art Prints

Photo Credit: On The Bridge by Joana Kruse

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

for Matthew

man-on-stairs-joana-kruse

 

How do I tell you to a stranger?
Do I start with that goofy walk – yours alone
Or the quick smile, always with a slight laugh,
Tilting head and blue sparkling eyes?
Or, the truth when we met –
though I denied it then –
that you looked to young to be the GSM,
that you weren’t what I expected the GSM
of a large store to be.
Your steadfast declaration –
that you were worthy of the spot:
“I can handle it!”
As if convincing me of this in some way
mattered. To you

I was “your angel” come to help.
The proclamation over and over
again. NOW we could do what must
be done to turn it around, grow
your success. I remember that night
in the bar (your words still ringing
in my ear). Us. We. Laughing, agreeing
in unison with the crowd of people
that we would move forward, clean up
the debris, build a stronger better future
together. You – the age of my daughter –
twenty-eight and electric with youth,
hope, drive. But gray shadows circled
even then, ethereal smoke twirling

at the edges of a dream. I spent
ninety-four days by your side before
fate bade me leave, warned me
that the darkening skies
and nightmare abyss would
claim you.

Seven hundred and thirty days later.
I look down At your face,
cradled by silk cushions in the coffin,

Gray and still like a deep, dark storm
blowing distant Over the ocean.
Your smile missing. I remember

a singular moment of time, mere weeks,
a few months on the calendar,
when kindred souls met, laughed,
and dreamed. Happily planning
a future that fate knew
would never come.

Photography Prints

(RIP Matthew Sayers 2014)

Photo Credit: Man on Stairs by Joana Kruse

To Save the White Dove (Allegory)

inner-peace-jane-small

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

How I Choose To Know You

on-silent-wings-pat-erickson

You are Water.

You come to me like the deep-running crystalline water
of cold mountain streams I once roamed beside in childhood hours.
Water flowing fast over polished rocks, the glint of Autumn sunlight
dancing across the gurgle and swish of currents, rolling
down, over, lower toward some eventual unknown ocean.

My soul captured by that bright sparkle was forever reaching
for the golden glimmer dancing beneath my hands, child-fingers
grasping in the icy water unable to capture the light illusive and fleeting.

You are Earth.

You open before me like the moss covered ridges and valleys
I strolled  through as a girl in the tall pine forests of Carolina.
Your scent like the deep wet earth after a gentle Spring rain.
Your arms and hands and fingers the sinew of roots, your skin
the color of evening descending through the valleys at twilight.

My spirit captured by the deep-graying light of evening, sitting
still on the dark green moss – watching – until the last streaks
of light left the sky and dark descended like a curtain on the world.

You are Air.

You flow into me like a breeze moving through the giant oak trees
of my adolescence, twisting and turning each leaf to movement. A sudden
symphony of hushed tones, soft rustled sounds of possession as
the tree becomes one with the wind that invades it. Like God breathing
into Adam — a gentle whisper carrying the all-consuming power to Be.

My mind captured in the soft-voiced honeyed silk words sliding from your lips,
you become a foreign zephyr traveling through me, carry me skyward and
leave me adrift in the wordless place of amber-eyed heights that is you.

You are Fire.

You burn through my veins like liquid mercury. The white-hot presence of you
rages in the room stealing the air from my lungs, leaves me weak and yearning.
A bright silver fire flowing through all those secret places of memory and need
before the fire becomes all, the flames filling my body to bursting-glowing
like the face of Moses after standing before the burning bush of God.

My body captured by the curiosity of wanting to know, to experience
the most uncommon of things. How could I have known the Mercury —
so glittery-silver and liquid-beautiful in my hand — would be so deadly?

~ לאור

I Dream of Poets

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I dream of poets –
of their bright-broken bruised
bones.

Their plight of speaking tomes
to the dead, to the living trying
to find word-songs to sing.
These ghosts of witness, prophets
caged in a time where prophets are
un-believed, are mere myths residing
in the places of Jesus
and miracles, and antiquated belief
systems. Poets
don’t exist beside
technology, briefcases,
economic woes, and woe is
the would-be poet-prophet who
tries to sing songs, speak warnings and
create dirges in a world gone deaf to hearing
and too busy for reading
and, of course, wouldn’t read poems anyway, but
would be more inclined toward
something like an e-book on “How to
Make $10,000 a year from home,” or
”The True Story of Rock Star John,”
a serialized E-special in print. Poets
and their prophecies spoken
in silent voices of white paper and black
letters in books filled with screaming
voices that are silent
upon the unhearing ears
of the world.

I dream of poets —
of their bright-broken
bruised bones.