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).