January 9, 2013
Conceived in Cuba, born in Spain, raised and educated in Miami– that’s Richard Blanco, as described by the inaugural planners.
What poem would he be reciting on January 20?
It’s not so easy to guess based on his track record. Like his actual birthplace, or his current address, Bethel, Maine, the quotient of unpredictability is fairly high here. His first volume of poetry, City of A Hundred Fires (a literal translation of “Cienfuegos,” the city on the southern coast of Cuba where his parents had grown up), is divided into two sections, “BC” and “AC.” “BC” – beforeCuba– recounts his boyhood growing up in Miami. “AC,” on the other hand, traces his travels back to Cuba to reclaim a past that was never actually his, a reverse chronology if ever there is one.
Directions to the Beach of the Dead, his second volume, traces an arc even more far-flung: to Guatemala and Brazil as well as Barcelona and Rome. One of the most memorable poems, though, one that he chooses to read on several occasions, is “We’re not going to Malta,” about a place he never made it to.
My favorite is probably “Mango No. 61,” where the “dissected flesh of the fruit slithering like molten gold” alternates with a string of numbers parading through the poem like some kind of Platonic geometry.
But perhaps this is always the case, even with authors not so obviously strange.
Sandra Cisneros didn’t live in a house on Mango Street– there’s a Mango Ave in Chicago, but she didn’t know that when she was writing the book. No, she grew up on Campbell Ave.
Always a story somewhere.