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Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco is the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history. He is the author of the memoirs The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey; the poetry chapbooks Matters of the Sea, One Today, and Boston Strong; the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires. Blanco’s many honors include the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize, the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and two Maine Literary Awards. The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador in 2015. He has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island.

Excerpts

Queer Theory: According to my Grandmother

Never drink soda with a straw—
wwwmilk shakes? Maybe.
Stop eyeing your mother’s Avon catalog,
and the men’s underwear in those Sears flyers.
wwwI’ve seen you . . .
Stay out of her Tupperware parties
and perfume bottles—don’t let her kiss you,
wwwshe kisses you much too much.
Avoid hugging men, but if you must,
wwwpat them real hard
wwwon the back, even
wwwif it’s your father.
Must you keep that cat? Don’t pet him so much.
wwwWhy don’t you like dogs?
Never play house, even if you’re the husband.
Quit hanging out with that Henry kid, he’s too pale,
wwwand I don’t care what you call them
wwwthose GI Joes of his
wwware dolls.
Don’t draw rainbows or flowers or sunsets.
wwwI’ve seen you . . .
Don’t draw at all—no coloring books either.
Put away your crayons, your Play-Doh, your Legos.
wwwWhere are your Hot Wheels,
wwwyour laser gun and handcuffs,
wwwthe knives I gave you?
Never fly a kite or roller skate, but light
wwwall the firecrackers you want,
wwwkill all the lizards you can, cut up worms—
wwwfeed them to that cat of yours.
Don’t sit Indian style with your legs crossed—
wwwyou’re no Indian.
Stop click-clacking your sandals—
wwwyou’re no girl.
For God’s sake, never pee sitting down.
wwwI’ve seen you . . .
Never take a bubble bath or wash your hair
with shampoo—shampoo is for women.
wwwSo is conditioner.
wwwSo is mousse.
wwwSo is hand lotion.
Never file your nails or blow-dry your hair—
go to the barber shop with your grandfather—
wwwyou’re not unisex.
Stay out of the kitchen. Men don’t cook—
they eat. Eat anything you want, except:
wwwdeviled eggs
wwwBlow Pops
wwwcroissants (Bagels? Maybe.)
wwwcucumber sandwiches
wwwpetit fours
Don’t watch Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie.
Don’t stare at The Six-Million Dollar Man.
wwwI’ve seen you . . .
Never dance alone in your room:
Donna Summer, Barry Manilow, the Captain
and Tennille, Bette Midler, and all musicals—
wwwforbidden.
Posters of kittens, Star Wars, or the Eiffel Tower—
wwwforbidden.
Those fancy books on architecture and art—
wwwI threw them in the trash.
You can’t wear cologne or puka shells
and I better not catch you in clogs.
If I see you in a ponytail—I’ll cut if off.
What? No, you can’t pierce your ear,
wwwleft or right side—
wwwI don’t care—
you will not look like a goddamn queer
wwwI’ve seen you . . .
even if you are one.

El Florida

Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up
against the windows, the tepid breeze
laden with the brown-sugar scent
of loquats drifting in from the yard.

Not a sunroom, but where the sun
both rose and set, all day the shadows
of banana trees fan-dancing across
the floor, and if it rained, it rained
the loudest, like marbles plunking
across the roof under constant threat
of coconuts ready to fall from the sky.

Not a sitting room, but El Florida, where
I sat alone for hours with butterflies
frozen on the polyester curtains
and faces of Lladró figurines: sad angels,
clowns, and princesses with eyes glazed
blue and gray, gazing from behind
the glass doors of the wall cabinet.

Not a tv room, but where I watched
Creature Feature as a boy, clinging
to my brother, safe from vampires
in the same sofa where I fell in love
with Clint Eastwood and my Abuelo
watching westerns, or pitying women
crying in telenovelas with my Abuela.

Not a family room, but the room where
my father twirled his hair while listening
to eight-tracks of Elvis, read Nietzsche
and Kant a few months before he died,
where my mother learned to dance alone
as she swept, and I learned salsa pressed
against my Tía Julia’s enormous breasts.

At the edge of the city, in the company
of crickets, beside the empty clothesline,
telephone wires, and the moon, tonight
my life is an old friend sitting with me
not in the living room, but in the light
of El Florida, as quiet and necessary
as any star shining above it.

Books

Looking for The Gulf Motel

Blanco’s third book explores the search for home and identity.

Blanco's memoir discusses his childhood in Miami.

Blanco’s memoir discusses his childhood in Miami.