You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries
And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:
When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—
It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.
Copyright © 2018 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.
In the old days of our family, My grandmother was a young woman Whose hair was as long as the river. She lived with her sisters on the ranch La Calera—The Land of the Lime— And her days were happy. But her uncle Carlos lived there too, Carlos whose soul had the edge of a knife. One day, to teach her to ride a horse, He made her climb on the fastest one, Bareback, and sit there As he held its long face in his arms. And then he did the unspeakable deed For which he would always be remembered: He called for the handsome baby Pirrín And he placed the child in her arms. With that picture of a Madonna on horseback He slapped the shank of the horse's rear leg. The horse did what a horse must, Racing full toward the bright horizon. But first he ran under the álamo trees To rid his back of this unfair weight: This woman full of tears And this baby full of love. When they reached the trees and went under, Her hair, which had trailed her, Equal in its magnificence to the tail of the horse, That hair rose up and flew into the branches As if it were a thousand arms, All of them trying to save her. The horse ran off and left her, The baby still in her arms, The two of them hanging from her hair. The baby looked only at her And did not cry, so steady was her cradle. Her sisters came running to save them. But the hair would not let go. From its fear it held on and had to be cut, All of it, from her head. From that day on, my grandmother Wore her hair short like a scream, But it was long like a river in her sleep.
From The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body by Alberto Ríos. Copyright © 2002 by Alberto Ríos. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.
What I’ve written for you, I have always written
in English, my language of silent vowel endings
never translated into your language of silent h’s.
Lo que he escrito para ti, siempre lo he escrito
en inglés, en mi lengua llena de vocales mudas
nunca traducidas a tu idioma de haches mudas.
I’ve transcribed all your old letters into poems
that reconcile your exile from Cuba, but always
in English. I’ve given you back the guajiro roads
you left behind, stretched them into sentences
punctuated with palms, but only in English.
He transcrito todas tus cartas viejas en poemas
que reconcilian tu exilio de Cuba, pero siempre
en inglés. Te he devuelto los caminos guajiros
que dejastes atrás, transformados en oraciones
puntuadas por palmas, pero solamente en inglés.
I have recreated the pueblecito you had to forget,
forced your green mountains up again, grown
valleys of sugarcane, stars for you in English.
He reconstruido el pueblecito que tuvistes que olvidar,
he levantado de nuevo tus montañas verdes, cultivado
la caña, las estrellas de tus valles, para ti, en inglés.
In English I have told you how I love you cutting
gladiolas, crushing ajo, setting cups of dulce de leche
on the counter to cool, or hanging up the laundry
at night under our suburban moon. In English,
En inglés te he dicho cómo te amo cuando cortas
gladiolas, machacas ajo, enfrías tacitas de dulce de leche
encima del mostrador, o cuando tiendes la ropa
de noche bajo nuestra luna en suburbia. En inglés
I have imagined you surviving by transforming
yards of taffeta into dresses you never wear,
keeping Papá’s photo hinged in your mirror,
and leaving the porch light on, all night long.
He imaginado como sobrevives transformando
yardas de tafetán en vestidos que nunca estrenas,
la foto de papá que guardas en el espejo de tu cómoda,
la luz del portal que dejas encendida, toda la noche.
Te he captado en inglés en la mesa de la cocina
esperando que cuele el café, que hierva la leche
y que tu vida acostumbre a tu vida. En inglés
has aprendido a adorer tus pérdidas igual que yo.
I have captured you in English at the kitchen table
waiting for the café to brew, the milk to froth,
and your life to adjust to your life. In English
you’ve learned to adore your losses the way I do.
From Directions to the Beach of the Dead by Richard Blanco. The Arizona Board of Regents © 2005. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.