Richard Blanco

Imaginary Exile


Dawn breaks my window and dares me
to write a poem brave enough to imagine
the last day I’ll ever see this amber light
color the wind breathing life into the dark
faces of these mountains I know by name,
risen from the bedrock of the only country
I’ve truly lived, resting on the same earth
as this house in which I’ll never rise again–

a poem that captures me making my bed
one last time as the sun climbs the maples
I’ll never again watch burst like fireworks
into fall, or undress themselves, slip into
snow’s white lace. Never again the spring
giggles of my brook, or creaks of my floor.
Never the scent of my peonies or pillows.
Never my eyes on my clouds, or my ears
to the rain on my rooftop in this country–

a poem that finds a word for the emptiness
of suddenly becoming a stranger in my own
kitchen, as I sip my last cup of coffee, linger
with the aroma of my last meal, my hands
trembling as I toss leftovers, wash dishes,
eat one last piece of bread I’ll never break
again, and cork a half-empty bottle of wine
I’ll never finish, a vintage I’ll keep savoring
like memories through my mind’s palate–

a poem that lists which parts of me to part
with, or take: Give up my orchids and dog
to my neighbor Jewel, but keep our stares
goodbye. Leave the china and crystal, but
box the plastic souvenirs. Forget my books,
but pack every letter and card I’ve saved.
Not the gold chains that won’t buy back
my life, but stuff all the loose photos lie
crumbs in my pockets I’ll need to survive–

a poem that brings daisies for my mother,
holds her as I swear I’ll return to hold her
again, though we both know I never will.
That speaks with my father one last time
at his grave, and forgives his silence again,
forever. That hopes my husband can flee
with me, knowing he can’t–our last gaze
a kiss meaning more to us than our first,
as I hold his hand and hand him my keys–

a poem ending as I walk backwards away
from his love at my door to open another–
step into some strange house and country
to harden into a statue of myself, my eyes
fixed and crumbling like the moon, and like
the moon, live by borrowed light, always but
never quite, dying in the sky, never forgiving
my fate, in a poem I never want to write.


How To Love A Country: Poems by Richard Blanco
Copyright © 2019 by Richard Blanco
Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press, Boston Massachusetts
Audio recording used with special permission from the Author

Selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, Richard Blanco is the youngest and the first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity characterizes his four collections of poetry: How To Love a Country, City of a Hundred Fires, which received the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press; Directions to The Beach of the Dead, recipient of the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center; and Looking for The Gulf Motel, recipient of the Paterson Poetry Prize and the Thom Gunn Award. He has also authored the memoirs For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, winner of a Lambda Literary Award. His inaugural poem “One Today” was published as a children’s book, in collaboration with renowned illustrator Dav Pilkey. Boundaries, a collaboration with photographer Jacob Hessler, challenges the physical and psychological dividing lines that shadow the United States. And his latest book of poems, How to Love a Country, both interrogates the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still unkept promise of its ideals. Blanco has written occasional poems for the re-opening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Freedom to Marry, the Tech Awards of Silicon Valley, and the Boston Strong benefit concert following the Boston Marathon bombings. He is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and has received numerous honorary doctorates. He has taught at Georgetown University, American University, and Wesleyan University. He serves as the first Education Ambassador for The Academy of American Poets.

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