To love a country as if you’ve lost one: 1968,
my mother leaves Cuba for America, a scene
I imagine as if standing in her place—one foot
inside a plane destined for a country she knew
only as a name, a color on a map, or glossy photos
from drugstore magazines, her other foot anchored
to the platform of her patria, her hand clutched
around one suitcase, taking only what she needs
most: hand-colored photographs of her family,
her wedding veil, the doorknob of her house,
a jar of dirt from her backyard, goodbye letters
she won’t open for years. The sorrowful drone
of engines, one last, deep breath of familiar air
she’ll take with her, one last glimpse at all
she’d ever known: the palm trees wave goodbye
as she steps onto the plane, the mountains shrink
from her eyes as she lifts off into another life.
To love a country as if you’ve lost one: I hear her
—once upon a time—reading picture books
over my shoulder at bedtime, both of us learning
English, sounding out words as strange as the talking
animals and fair-haired princesses in their pages.
I taste her first attempts at macaroni-n-cheese
(but with chorizo and peppers), and her shame
over Thanksgiving turkeys always dry, but countered
by her perfect pork pernil and garlic yuca. I smell
the rain of those mornings huddled as one under
one umbrella waiting for the bus to her ten-hour days
at the cash register. At night, the zzz-zzz of her sewing
her own blouses, quinceañera dresses for her nieces
still in Cuba, guessing at their sizes, and the gowns
she’d sell to neighbors to save for a rusty white sedan—
no hubcaps, no air-conditioning, sweating all the way
through our first vacation to Florida theme parks.
To love a country as if you’ve lost one: as if
it were you on a plane departing from America
forever, clouds closing like curtains on your country,
the last scene in which you’re a madman scribbling
the names of your favorite flowers, trees, and birds
you’d never see again, your address and phone number
you’d never use again, the color of your father’s eyes,
your mother’s hair, terrified you could forget these.
To love a country as if I was my mother last spring
hobbling, insisting I help her climb all the way up
to the U.S. Capitol, as if she were here before you today
instead of me, explaining her tears, cheeks pink
as the cherry blossoms coloring the air that day when
she stopped, turned to me, and said: You know, mijo,
it isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where
you choose to die—that’s your country.
Copyright © 2019 by Richard Blanco. From How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019). Reprinted with permission by Beacon Press.
a day so perfect that
this morning’s awakening bombs
are overtaken by a woman’s wind chimes
of “tamales, tamales.”
on the way to the airport
iguanas hang upside down,
even they smile.
along farms and fields
rotten bullet seeds
are overtaken by flowering weeds.
on the side of the highway
a tall Maquilishuat tree gives
birth to premature pink petals
inside a plane headed north,
yani & i fly so high
that we can’t tell
cornfields from fences;
it’s such a perfect
From Toys Made of Rock (Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by José B. González. Used with the permission of Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe.
Three moves in sixth months and I remain the same. Two homes made two friends. The third leaves me with myself again. (We hardly speak.) Here I am with tame ducks and my neighbors' boats, only this electric heat against the April damp. I have a friend named Frank— the only one who ever dares to call and ask me, "How's your soul?" I hadn't thought about it for a while, and was ashamed to say I didn't know. I have no priest for now. Who will forgive me then. Will you Tame birds and my neighbors' boats. The ducks honk about the floats . . . They walk dead drunk onto the land and grounds, iridescent blue and black and green and brown. They live on swill our aged houseboats spill. But still they are beautiful. Look! The duck with its unlikely beak has stopped to pick and pull at the potted daffodil. Then again they sway home to dream bright gardens of fish in the early night. Oh these ducks are all right. They will survive. But I am sorry I do not often see them climb. Poor sons-a-bitching ducks. You're all fucked up. What do you do that for? Why don't you hover near the sun anymore? Afraid you'll melt? These foolish ducks lack a sense of guilt, and so all their multi-thousand-mile range is too short for the hope of change.
Copyright © 1989 by the John Logan Literary Estate, Inc. Reprinted from John Logan: The Collected Poems, by John Logan, with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.