Poetry…Art…such small words holding such enormous and mysterious content. I grew up in awe of my grandmother’s poems and her brother’s art and have spent most of my life trying to make and understand both. Every birthday our cards would contain one of her works. They are saved in a box I can see from where I work right now. I would never throw them away because they were part of our shared story and my heritage.
Her simple kind of poetry was all I understood for many years. Somewhere in High School when we studied Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare, poetry lost me. But I kept looking for it. I have collected a few favourite poems in the last couple of decades. Occasionally I’ve shared them here with you, but few whose work I consistently relate to. Mary Oliver is a favourite, also Kahil Gibran (Grandma also liked his work). Recently I have discovered a poet whose work has so moved me, I listened to the interview with him three times over and intend listening again…and possibly another time after that. I bought his most recent work ‘how to love a country’ because it spoke to me of both the country of my birth and the country of my self discovery. It is a very fun interview and if you are not too busy making pumpkin pie and basting turkey, I highly recommend it here.
Richard Blanco was conceived in Cuba, born in Spain and migrated with his family when he was 45 days old to Miami, Florida. Many times when asked about my unusual name, I have told people ‘my family heritage is Italian and German and I was born in America but have lived most of my life in Australia’. As far as I know my parents never asked the person whose name I have, where it came from. Maybe in the early 1950’s one didn’t ask such questions. All I have been able to find out is perhaps it is ancient Greek. If all of that doesn’t make me a citizen of the world, I don’t know what will. Richard tells people ‘I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States’. I understood immediately.
I found, after all these years, that I could love narrative poetry–poetry that tells a story…in particular, his narrative poetry. This week of America’s Thanksgiving, in this year of two thousand and struggles, I thought would be a good time to share the work of Richard Blanco. At my first Thanksgiving in Australia there were only two native Australians out of twelve at our table. Having shared Thanksgiving dinners with Australians, visiting nationalities and Immigrants, I can relate to the many humorous questions and explanations of the traditions. If you want to hear his reading of their family experience, below, (which I highly recommend) go to the link above and download it or go to your favourite podcast provider and download On Being with Krista Tippett/Richard Blanco.
“A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita (granny)
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the 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, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey …
as well as pork.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I had to translate from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
‘DRY’, Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly–‘esa mierda roja,’ he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin—calabasa—was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.”
While this may not be the year where we get everything we want, it may be the year to be thankful for everything we have.