Village Voice: Poet Richard Blanco Gets Romantic

02.05.20

Richard Blanco joined Boston Public to celebrate the month of Valentine’s Day by reading a handful of poems that celebrate love, and the experiences of falling in and out of it.

“It’s a very big theme,” Blanco said of the role that love and romance play in poetry. “The loss of it, the yearning for it, all sorts of different nuances and dimensions of love– which I want to take you through with a few poems we have today.”

Blanco went on to read and discuss a few of his own poems, and poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Pablo Neruda– all of which are listed below.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Pablo Neruda, Sonnet XVII

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

Richard Blanco, Killing Mark

His plane went down over Los Angeles last week (again), or was it Long Island?
Boxer shorts, hair gel, his toothbrush
washed up on the shore at New Haven,
but his body never recovered, I feared.

Monday, he cut off his leg chain sawing-
bled to death slowly while I was shopping
for a new lamp, never heard my messages
on his cell phone: Where are you? Call me!
I told him to be careful. He never listens.

Tonight, fifteen minutes late, I’m sure
he’s hit a moose on Route 26, but maybe
he survived, someone from the hospital
will call me, give me his room number.
I’ll bring his pajamas, some magazines.

5:25: still no phone call, voice mail full.
I turn on the news, wait for the report:
flashes of moose blood, his car mangled,
as I buzz around the bedroom dusting
the furniture, sorting the sock drawer.

Did someone knock? I’m expecting
the sheriff by six o’clock. Mr. Blanco,
I’m afraid . . .he’ll say, hand me a Ziploc
with his wallet, sunglasses, wristwatch.
I’ll invite him in, make some coffee.

6:25: I’ll have to call his mom, explain,
arrange to fly the body back. Do I have
enough garbage bags for his clothes?
I should keep his ties- but his shoes?
Order flowers- roses- white or read?

By seven-thirty I’m taking mental notes
for his eulogy, suddenly adorning all
I’ve hated, ten years worth of nose hairs
in the sink, of lost car keys, of chewing
too loud and hogging the bed sheets,

when Joey yowls, ears to the sound
of footsteps up the drive, and darts
to the doorway, I follow with a scowl:
Where the hell were you? Couldn’t call?
Translation: I die each time I kill you.

This episode of “Village Voice” aired on WGBH Boston Public Radio on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.