Poet Richard Blanco Celebrates Pride Month

06.22.21

In the latest edition of “Village Voice,” Jim Braude and Margery Eagan celebrate Pride Month with poet Richard Blanco.

Blanco shared two of his own poems “ONE PULSE-ONE POEM” and “UNTIL WE COULD.”

In “ONE PULSE-ONE POEM” Blanco chronicles his creative process and the imperative need to write about the Pulse massacre as a way to make sense of the world, to heal and connect.

“Most of the victims were Latinx…It was so tragic for the community. Pulse wasn’t just a place to dance, to pick up somebody, it’s home. A place to belong and build a sense of community…In this case, this poem poured out of me.”

He also read “UNTIL WE COULD,” which was developed into a film and shows the expanse of the LGBTQ community. Narrated by Robin Wright, the poem was commissioned by Freedom to Marry in honor of the tenth anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts. This poem is about the struggle for equality and is rooted in Blanco’s own experiences.

“Based on my own marriage and experience, Mark gets a little embarrassed when I read it in front of an audience when he’s present… I don’t write a lot of love poems! It is about our life but also the universality of relationships, the trials and tribulations. When you see the film, it allows it to be anybody’s relationship as well…being true to my experience but also letting the poem breathe so we can see ourselves in it.”

Follow along with the poems as they are read and discussed, and click on the poem titles to be taken to the live reading of “ONE PULSE-ONE POEM” and the poetry film “UNTIL WE COULD.”

ONE PULSE – ONE POEM

Here, sit at my kitchen table, we need to write this
together. Take a sip of café con leche, breathe in
the steam and our courage to face this page, bare
as our pain. Curl your fingers around mine, curled
around my pen, hold it like a talisman in our hands
shaking, eyes swollen. But let’s not start with tears,
or the flashing lights, the sirens, nor the faint voice
over the cell phone when you heard “I love you . . .”
for the very last time. No, let’s ease our way into this,
let our first lines praise the plenitude of morning,
the sun exhaling light into the clouds. Let’s imagine
songbirds flocked at my window, hear them chirping
a blessing in Spanish: bendición-bendición-bendición

Begin the next stanza with a constant wind trembling
every palm tree, yet steadying our minds just enough
to write out: bullets, bodies, death—the vocabulary
of violence raging in our minds, but still mute, choked
in our throats. Leave some white space for a moment
of silence, then fill it with lines repeating the rhythms
pulsing through Pulse that night—salsa, deep house,
electro, merengue, and techno heartbeats mixed with
gunshots. Stop the echoes of that merciless music
with a tender simile to honor the blood of our blood,
without writing blood. Use warm words to describe
the cold bodies of our husbands, lovers, and wives,
our sisters, brothers, and friends. Draw a metaphor
so we can picture the choir of their invisible spirits
rising with the smoke toward disco lights, imagine
ourselves dancing with them until the very end.

Write one more stanza—now. Set the page ablaze
with the anger in the hollow ache of our bones—
anger for the new hate, same as the old kind of hate
for the wrong skin color, for the accent in a voice,
for the love of those we’re not supposed to love.
Anger for the voice of politics armed with lies, fear
that holds democracy at gunpoint. But let’s not
end here. Turn the poem, find details for the love
of the lives lost, still alive in photos—spread them
on the table, give us their wish-filled eyes glowing
over birthday candles, their unfinished sand castles,
their training-wheels, Mickey Mouse ears, tiaras.
Show their blemished yearbook faces, silver-teeth
smiles and stiff prom poses, their tasseled caps
and gowns, their first true loves. And then share
their very last selfies. Let’s place each memory
like a star, the light of their past reaching us now,
and always, reminding us to keep writing until
we never need to write a poem like this again.

UNTIL WE COULD
for Mark

I knew it then—when we first found our eyes,
in our eyes, and everything around us—even
the din and smoke of the city—disappeared,
leaving us alone as if we were the only two
men in the world, two mirrors face-to-face:
my reflection in yours, yours in mine, infinite.

I knew since I knew you—but we couldn’t.

I caught the sunlight pining through the shears,
traveling millions of dark miles simply to graze
your skin as I did that first dawn I studied you
sleeping beside me: I counted your eyelashes,
read your dreams like butterflies flitting under
your eyelids and ready to flutter into the room.
Yes, I praised you like a majestic creature god
forgot to create, till that morning of you tamed
in my arms, first for me to see, name you mine.
Yes, to the rise and fall of your body, your every
exhale and inhale a breath I breathed as my own
wanting to keep even the air between us as one.

Yes to all of you. Yes I knew, but still we couldn’t.

I taught you how to dance Salsa by looking
into my Caribbean eyes. You learned to speak
in my tongue, while teaching me how to catch
a snowflake in my palms, love the grey clouds
of your worn-out hometown. Our years began
collecting in glossy photos time-lining our lives
across shelves and walls glancing back at us:
Us embracing in some sunset, more captivated
by each other than the sky brushed plum-rose.
Us claiming some mountain that didn’t matter
as much our climbing it, together. Us leaning
against columns of ruins as ancient as our love
was new, or leaning into our dreams at a table
flickering candlelight in our full-mooned eyes.

I knew me as much as us, and yet we couldn’t.

Though I forgave your blue eyes turning green
each time you lied, kept believing you, though
we managed to say good morning after muted
nights in the same bed, though every door slam
told me to hold on by letting us go, and saying
you’re right became as true as saying I’m right,
till there was nothing a long walk couldn’t solve:
holding hands and hope under the streetlights
lustering like a string of pearls guiding us home,
or a stroll along the beach with our dog, the sea
washed out by our smiles, our laughter roaring
louder than the waves. Though we understood
our love was the same as our parents, though
we dared to tell them so, and they understood.

Though we knew, we couldn’t—no one could.

When fiery kick lines and fires were set for us
by our founding mother-fathers at Stonewall,
we first spoke of defiance. When we paraded
glitter, leather, and rainbows, our word then
became pride down city streets, demanding:
Just let us be. But that wasn’t enough. Parades
became rallies—bold words on signs, shouting
until we all claimed freedom as another word
for marriage and said: Let us in, insisted: love
is love, proclaimed it into all eyes that would
listen at any door that would open, until noes
and maybes turned into yeses, town by town,
city by city, state by state, understanding us
and all those who dared to say enough until
the gavel struck into law what we always knew:

Love is the right to say: I do and I do and I do. . .

and I do want us to see every tulip we’ve planted
come up spring after spring, a hundred more years
of dinners cooked over a shared glass of wine, and
a thousand more movies in bed. I do until our eyes
become voices speaking without speaking, until
like a cloud meshed into a cloud, there’s no more
you, me—our names useless. I do want you to be
the last face I see—your breath my last breath,

I do, I do and will and will for those who still can’t

vow it yet, but know love’s exact reason as much
as they know how a sail keeps the wind without
breaking, or how roots dig a way into the earth,
or how the stars open their eyes to the night, or
how a vine becomes one with the wall it loves, or
how, when I hold you, you are rain in my hands.

For more info on the campaign to win marriage nationwide, visit www.freedomtomarry.org

This episode of “Village Voice” aired on WGBH Boston Public Radio on June 22nd, 2021.

(Image provided by Jason Leung at unsplash.com.)