Richard Blanco joins Jim and Margery for another edition of “Village Voice.” This week’s theme is the Aubade poem, an ode or lament to the dawn, and “the love songs of departing lovers.”
“A perennial theme stemmed in medieval times, it’s said to have begun when the watchmen’s cry would announce the end of the night… Not a poem, but a classic example is from “Romeo and Juliet” when they depart in the morning, Oh say it is not the lark! …Of course, there are many variations in contemporary contexts that do not include a lover. But there’s always the contrast of sweetness, ecstasy, or desire, against isolation and separation.”
Enjoy the conversation and read along with the poems listed.
“Varadero en Alba”
from City of a Hundred Fires
tus olas roncas murmuran entre ellas
las luciérnagas se han cansado
las gaviotas esperan como ansiosas reinas
We gypsy through the island’s north ridge
ripe with villages cradled in cane and palms,
the raw harmony of fireflies circling about
amber faces like dewed fruit in the dawn;
the sun belongs here, it returns like a soldier
loyal to the land, the leaves turn to its victory,
a palomino rustles its mane in blooming light.
I have no other vision of this tapestry.
tus palmas viudas quieren su danzón
y las nubes se mueven inquietas como gitanas,
adivina la magia encerrada del caracol
The morning pallor blurs these lines:
horizon with shore, mountain with road;
the shells conceal their chalky magic,
the dunes’ shadows lengthen and grow;
I too belong here, sun, and my father
who always spoke paradise of the same sand
I now impress barefoot on a shore I’ve known
only as a voice held like water in my hands.
las estrellas pestañosas tienen sueño
en la arena, he grabado tu nombre,
en la orilla, he clavado mi remo
There are names chiseled in the ivory sand,
striped fish that slip through my fingers
like wet and cool ghosts among the coral,
a warm rising light, a vertigo that lingers;
I wade in the salt and timed waves,
facing the losses I must understand,
staked oars crucifixed on the shore.
Why are we nothing without this land?
“Aubade with Burning City”
by Ocean Vuong
South Vietnam, April 29, 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind, the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon.
Milkflower petals on the street
like pieces of a girl’s dress.
May your days be merry and bright …
He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.
Open, he says.
Outside, a soldier spits out
his cigarette as footsteps
fill the square like stones fallen from the sky. May all
your Christmases be white as the traffic guard
unstraps his holster.
His hand running the hem
of her white dress.
His black eyes.
Her black hair.
A single candle.
Their shadows: two wicks.
A military truck speeds through the intersection, the sound of children
shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled
through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog
lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs
crushed into the shine
of a white Christmas.
On the nightstand, a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard
for the first time.
The treetops glisten and children listen, the chief of police
facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola.
A palm-sized photo of his father soaking
beside his left ear.
The song moving through the city like a widow.
A white … A white … I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow
falling from her shoulders.
Snow crackling against the window. Snow shredded
with gunfire. Red sky.
Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.
A helicopter lifting the living just out of reach.
The city so white it is ready for ink.
The radio saying run run run.
Milkflower petals on a black dog
like pieces of a girl’s dress.
May your days be merry and bright. She is saying
something neither of them can hear. The hotel rocks
beneath them. The bed a field of ice
Don’t worry, he says, as the first bomb brightens
their faces, my brothers have won the war
and tomorrow …
The lights go out.
I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming …
to hear sleigh bells in the snow …
In the square below: a nun, on fire,
runs silently toward her god —
Open, he says.
by Amie Whittemore
The air smells soft today and of the past,
redbuds dispersing their ruby secrets,
myself among them. I kept the body
taut with thirst, so that it thrived without.
Then, this new man, suspect as always, showed
up, glinting like he knew which songs I liked.
What I know of him fits within my palms:
his twin scars but not their cause. His lamb’s wool
voice and canvas shoes. A lavender net.
What I know of love fits inside my mouth.
The air smells soft today and of the past.
I robe myself in gray and green.
Some come to us in the perfection
of their frailty, some leave us by it.
This episode of “Village Voice” first aired on Boston Public Radio on Dec 6th, 2021.
Image by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos @unsplash.com