Village Voice: Richard Blanco Highlights Poems For Hispanic Heritage Month

10.05.21

In this episode of “Village Voice,” Boston Public Radio and Richard Blanco share poems to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month. From “Florida-grown mameyes” that are a shadow of the Cuban mamey, to grandmothers returning lost countries and cultures to the homelands of memory, as first-generation poets could have written it.

Tune in for the conversation and read along with the poems listed below.

Frutas
by Ricardo Pau-Llosa.

Growing up in Miami any tropical fruit I ate
could only be a bad copy of the Real Fruit of Cuba
Exile meant having to consume false food
and knowing it advance. With joy
my parent and grandmother would encounter
Florida-grown mameyes and caimitos at the market.
At home they would take them out of the American bag
and describe the taste that I and my older sister
would, in a few seconds, be privileged to experience
for the first time. We all sat around the table
to welcome into our lives this football-shaped
brown fruit with the salmon-colored flesh
encircling an ebony seed. “Mamey,”
my grandmother would say with a confirming nod
as if repatriating a lost and ruined name.
Then she bent over the plate
slipped a large slice of Mamey into her mouth,
then straightened in her chair and, eyes shut,
lost herself in comparison and memory.
I waited for her face to return in judgment.
“No, Not even a shadow of the ones back home.”
She kept eating more calmly
and I began tasting the sweet and creamy pulp
trying to raise the volume of its flavor
so that it might become a Cuban mamey. “The good
Cuban mameyes didn’t have primaveras,” she said
after the second large gulp, kicking her spoon
against a lump in the fruit and winking.
So at once I erased the lumps in my mental mamey.
I asked her how the word for “spring”
came to signify “lump” in mamey. She shrugged.
Next you’ll want to know how we lost a country.

Looking for The Gulf Motel
by Richard Blanco

Marco Island, Florida

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

The Gulf Motel with mermaid lampposts
and ship’s wheel in the lobby should still be
rising out of the sand like a cake decoration.
My brother and I should still be pretending
we don’t know our parents, embarrassing us
as they roll the luggage cart past the front desk
loaded with our scruffy suitcases, two-dozen
loaves of Cuban bread, brown bags bulging
with enough mangos to last the entire week,
our espresso pot, the pressure cooker—and
a pork roast reeking garlic through the lobby.
All because we can’t afford to eat out, not even
on vacation, only two hours from our home
in Miami, but far enough away to be thrilled
by whiter sands on the west coast of Florida,
where I should still be for the first time watching
the sun set instead of rise over the ocean.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My mother should still be in the kitchenette
of The Gulf Motel, her daisy sandals from Kmart
squeaking across the linoleum, still gorgeous
in her teal swimsuit and amber earrings
stirring a pot of arroz-con-pollo, adding sprinkles
of onion powder and dollops of tomato sauce.
My father should still be in a terrycloth jacket
smoking, clinking a glass of amber whiskey
in the sunset at the Gulf Motel, watching us
dive into the pool, two boys he’ll never see
grow into men who will be proud of him.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My brother and I should still be playing Parcheesi,
my father should still be alive, slow dancing
with my mother on the sliding-glass balcony
of The Gulf Motel. No music, only the waves
keeping time, a song only their minds hear
ten-thousand nights back to their life in Cuba.
My mother’s face should still be resting against
his bare chest like the moon resting on the sea,
the stars should still be turning around them.

There should be nothing here I don’t remember . . .

My brother should still be thirteen, sneaking
rum in the bathroom, sculpting naked women
from sand. I should still be eight years old
dazzled by seashells and how many seconds
I hold my breath underwater—but I’m not.
I am thirty-eight, driving up Collier Boulevard,
looking for The Gulf Motel, for everything
that should still be, but isn’t. I want to blame
the condos, their shadows for ruining the beach
and my past, I want to chase the snowbirds away
with their tacky mansions and yachts, I want
to turn the golf courses back into mangroves,
I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was
and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.

Analfabeta
By Caridad Moro-Gronlier

It took a while for Abuela to figure out that an F
on my report card did not stand for Fantástico,
her experience with school limited to fourth grade
back in the days of wooden rooms and rulers that beat
knowledge into those bold enough to opt for ignorance.

Abuela kept what she could from el colegio en el campo—
arithmetic, the alphabet, penmanship that wobbled
long before her arthritis set in. She would not stand for less
than my best which is why she beat my ass with her chancleta
when she learned I’d been lying about my ease with fractions and P.E.

You would have thought her a dignitary the day she walked
into my 6th grade classroom, staccato heels, her good black dress
ironed crisp as a dollar, all for a date with Mrs. Dempsey
who looked at us down the long slope of her nose and began
to tear me down in tea-time tones that forgot to mention

she sometimes slipped and called me ‘Spic,’ how she pounced
when I spoke to my friends in Español. Abuela caught most
of the words Dempsey lobbed her way, but didn’t say a thing
just glared at me every second she endured the shame of
my shortcomings, as personal as the fine stitch of her heirloom DNA,

as if she alone were to blame for the thrust of my chin, the purse
of my lips, the crossbones of arms I strapped to my chest as the words
too smart for her own good lingered in the air like the bells
that ruled our days, which is when Abuela finally stood, said the words
that set me straight—Neber too esmart, mi niña, neber too esmart!

This episode first aired on Boston Public Radio on September 27th, 2021.