Like a lot of people, my first introduction to Richard Blanco was when President Obama picked him to be the Inaugural Poet this year. Of course, one feels a bit of guilt for being suckered into the (seemingly) only news angle journalists had while writing about him: “Gay! Latino!” — As though we’re celebrating redheads or something we might wish were equally unusual as a matter of public discourse. Still, at the same time, a sitting president is celebrating someone who is not white and not straight. That’s great.
There is another thing that kind of made me laugh at myself: I continued to pay attention because Richard Blanco is a fine, fine-looking man. Dem arms. Seriously.
Look, perhaps we should have more open lusting for poets, yeah? If that is someone’s gateway into a poet’s work, then so be it. We all need more poetry in our lives.
All right, now that I’ve got all that off my chest, can I also tell you that I really enjoy Looking for The Gulf Motel? Yes, I do. Truly. It hits all my thematic hot spots — love, lust, and loneliness. Blanco revels in memory and intimacy, and much like Tracy K. Smith’s poetry, his work makes me want to bed down and stay.
Because my parents come from Florida — Miami, more specifically — and because I still visit my maternal grandmother in Port St. Lucie (which is more on the central coast), I feel at home reading about Florida. I’ve never lived there, but I imagine the familiarity I have is similar to what Blanco feels about Cuba, minus the political upheaval.
We click beers — Viva Cuba — though
I want to believe I’d hate my life here
from “Poem Between Havana and Varadero”
And I think I’d hate to live in central Florida, though I could grow to love Miami. My mom still likes to tell the story of taking me to a Cuban restaurant, and how the waitstaff was so amused by this baby with a giant, blond-fuzzed head, who would shovel in all the black beans she could get her hands on. Even though I barely remember my last trip to Miami at nine years old, I don’t think I’d feel like a tourist. (For one thing, I’d be busy eating all the properly cooked platanos in sight and would therefore be unconcerned with other matters.)
Everything I am is here still, sitting
with my grandfather on lawn chairs
watching plum sunsets and the clouds
of his tabaco vanishing into the wind,
into the chirp of crickets echoing back
from stars that haven’t moved since
I first saw them, and the moon not yet
replaced by the glow of the city’s lights
from “Sitting on My Mother’s Porch in Westchester, Florida”
Motel is not all about Cuba and Florida, but about identity, and about feeling comfortable with our desires. Whether we know we will be at home farther north, or that we do not fit the tidy traditional narrative our families imagined, Blanco has the words. I loved his poems about his romantic relationships, and “we were no good at that kind of talk, / remember? We had no language for / those mysteries: two men consumed / with one another.” (“Cheers to Hyakutake”)
There’s also an underlying anxiety with the desire to sometimes be someone else — to be the specific someone another needs. Is he supposed to be his father? Is there another him somewhere out there in another parallel universe? And the biggest question of all: “Why have you been sad all your life?” (“Birthday Portrait”)
To be honest, I don’t know what I love most about Looking for The Gulf Motel because it’s just all so true. What I don’t understand about people who get so turned off by the concept of the Other, as though their poor little brains cannot possibly process anything deviating from what’s in front of their noses, is that we’re really not so different. We all want to be loved, desired, and not so sad. We have complicated relationships, romantic and familial, and it’s not so scary to say so. Richard Blanco is a treasure, his words a salve, and he fills me with the best sort of yearning. Most of all, he makes me want to get to work.