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By Richard Blanco

A bearded shepherd in a gray wool vest,

a beret lowered to his brow, that’s how

my blood has always imagined the man

who was my great-grandfather, his eyes

hazel, I was told once. But I’ll never see

what he saw of his life in the cold rivers

of Asturias. I can only imagine the fog

caressing the hills of his village and him

watching from the window of the train

he took to Sevilla – for love, my mother

explained to me once, holding a ghost

of him in a photo on his wedding day

with an ascot tie and buttoned shoes

standing in a room filled with mahogany

and red roses. Were they red? What color

were the tiers of Spanish lace cascading

from my great-grandmother’s dress?

Nothing can speak for them now, tell me

what they saw in their eyes that morning

they left for love or war or both, crossing

the sea to Cuban palms and cane fields

quietly sweetening under the quiet sun.

But what if they’d never met, what color

would my eyes be? Who would I be now

had they gone to Johannesburg instead,

or Maracaibo, or not left Sevilla at all?

Into what seas would I have cast thoughts,

what other cities would I’ve drowned in?

The countries I would’ve lost, or betrayed,

the languages I would speak or not speak,

the names that would’ve been my names –

I’d like to believe I’ve willed every detail

of my life, but I’m a consequence, a drop

of rain, a seed fallen by chance, here

in the middle of a story I don’t know,

having to finish it and call it my own.

RICHARD BLANCO, the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Poet, an educator and practicing civil engineer, delivered the first BABEL Series lecture of the 2013-14 season last week in Kleinhans Music Hall. Blanco’s books include “Directions to the Beach of the Dead” (University of Arizona Press, 2005), winner of the 2006 PEN/American Center Beyond Margins Award; and “City of a Hundred Fires” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998), winner of the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett National Poetry Prize. This poem is from his latest collection “Looking for the Gulf Motel” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012).