Religion Magazine

"América": A Fourth-of-July Poem by Richard Blanco

Posted on the 04 July 2013 by William Lindsey @wdlindsy

For Independence Day, the Academy of American Poets has selected as its poem of the day, which is emailed to those on the poem-a-day mailing list of the organization, Richard Blanco's "América." Blanco is, readers will remember, the gay Cuban-American poet whom President Obama chose to declaim an inaugural poem at Obama's second inauguration (and here). Here's his poem "América":
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discoveredat least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter—topping for guava shells in syrup,butter substitute for Cuban toast,hair conditioner and relaxer—Mamá never knew what to makeof the monthly five-pound jarshanded out by the immigration departmentuntil my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
There was always pork though,for every birthday and wedding,whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,even on Thanksgiving Day—pork,fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted—as well as cauldrons of black beans,fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.These items required a special visitto Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th streetwhere men in guayaberas stood in senateblaming Kennedy for everything—"Ese hijo de puta!"the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residuefilling the creases of their wrinkled lips;clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,ashamed and empty as hollow trees.
By seven I had grown suspicious—we were still here.Overheard conversations about returninghad grown wistful and less frequent.I spoke English; my parents didn't.We didn't live in a two story housewith a maid or a wood panel station wagonnor vacation camping in Colorado.None of the girls had hair of gold;none of my brothers or cousinswere named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;we were not the Brady Bunch.None of the black and white characterson Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Showwere named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either—they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;they didn't have yuca, they had yamslike the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
A week before ThanksgivingI explained to my abuelitaabout the Indians and the Mayflower,how Lincoln set the slaves free;I explained to my parents aboutthe purple mountain's majesty,"one if by land, two if by sea"the cherry tree, the tea party,the amber waves of grain,the "masses yearning to be free"liberty and justice for all, untilfinally they agreed:this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,as well as pork.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowlas if committing an act of treason,faking her enthusiasm for my sake.Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the ovenand prepared candied yams following instructionsI translated from the marshmallow bag.The table was arrayed with gladiolus,the plattered turkey loomed at the centeron plastic silver from Woolworths.Everyone sat in green velvet chairswe had upholstered with clear vinyl,except Tío Carlos and Toti, seatedin the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.I uttered a bilingual blessingand the turkey was passed aroundlike a game of Russian Roulette."DRY", Tío Berto complained, and proceededto drown the lean slices with pork fat drippingsand cranberry jelly—"esa mierda roja," he called it.Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffeethen Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire familybegan to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—it was 1970 and 46 degrees—in América.After repositioning the furniture,an appropriate darkness filled the room.Tío Berto was the last to leave.
The photograph of Richard Blanco is by Nick Tucci and is from the NPR website.

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