Editor’s Note: Nation contributor Dan Wakefield alerted us to our role in helping to launch the poetry career of Richard Blanco, selected by the White House as the 2013 inaugural poet. Dan writes:
“When I went to teach at Florida International University in the spring of 1994, I went to a student reading and was especially impressed by one of the poets, a young man named Richard Blanco. I asked if he would give me copies of the poems he read that night, and I picked out three of them I thought were worthy of publication and suggested I submit them to The Nation, where I have been a long-time contributor. Rick said none of his work had been published yet, and was happy for me to send the poems to Grace Shulman, the poetry editor. To my delight and to Rick’s, Shulman selected his poem “Last Night in Havana,” and eventually published it in The Nation (March 31, 1997). So The Nation was the first periodical to accept for publication the work of our new inaugural poet. (To thank me, Rick gave me my first guided tour of Little Havana, Miami’s legendary Cuban neighborhood.)”
The palms sink willingly
into the saffron ground.
All I can map now is
the marble veins of static rivers,
the island coastline retreated like a hem
from the sargasso patches of Caribbean.
I think of you primo hermano,
huddled on the edge
of an Almendares curb last night
your Greco shadow spilled over the street,
and over the tracks stapled to the weeds
below your bedroom window.
Shawled in cobwebs of wind,
we slapped at unreachable mosquitos
as Havana’s tenements collapsed around us,
enclosed us in yellow
like the pages of old books
or the stucco walls of a hollow chapel.
You confessed you live
with one foot ankled in the sand of a revolution,
one Viking sole on the beach
testing an unparted sea
for the stag tide, the gulf wind,
a legible puzzle of stars, the perfect moon
that will increase your chances through the straits
to my door, blistered, salted,
but alive, to cry—Llegué hermano, llegué!
And silence the sweep
of labor trains in your window,
the creak of your father’s wheelchair
in the hall searching for a bottle
of pills he will find empty,
the slam of your eyelids forcing sleep.
The bus tires are ready, bound with piano wire,
and the sail will be complete
with a few more scraps of linen
Tia Delia will stitch together after midnights
when the neighbors are asleep.
Last night in Havana,
your words bounced from your knees
bent against your face
and drowned with the lees
in an empty bottle of bootleg wine
you clutched around the neck
and will keep to store fresh water.