Richard Blanco


Richard Blanco is the fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history—the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize his body of work. He is the author of the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires, among other chapbooks, memoirs, and others. Blanco’s many honors include the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and two Maine Literary Awards. He has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island. He has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Fresh Air. The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador in 2015. Blanco has continued to write occasional poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. He lives with his partner in Bethel, ME. Source

Mother Country

To love a country as if you’ve lost one: 1968,

my mother leaves Cuba for America, a scene

I imagine as if standing in her place—one foot

inside a plane destined for a country she knew

only as a name, a color on a map, or glossy photos

from drugstore magazines, her other foot anchored

to the platform of her patria, her hand clutched

around one suitcase, taking only what she needs

most: hand-colored photographs of her family,

her wedding veil, the doorknob of her house,

a jar of dirt from her backyard, goodbye letters

she won’t open for years. The sorrowful drone

of engines, one last, deep breath of familiar air

she’ll take with her, one last glimpse at all

she’d ever known: the palm trees wave goodbye

as she steps onto the plane, the mountains shrink

from her eyes as she lifts off into another life.


To love a country as if you’ve lost one: I hear her

once upon a time—reading picture books

over my shoulder at bedtime, both of us learning

English, sounding out words as strange as the talking

animals and fair-haired princesses in their pages.

I taste her first attempts at macaroni-n-cheese

(but with chorizo and peppers), and her shame

over Thanksgiving turkeys always dry, but countered

by her perfect pork pernil and garlic yuca. I smell

the rain of those mornings huddled as one under

one umbrella waiting for the bus to her ten-hour days

at the cash register. At night, the zzz-zzz of her sewing

her own blouses, quinceañera dresses for her nieces

still in Cuba, guessing at their sizes, and the gowns

she’d sell to neighbors to save for a rusty white sedan—

no hubcaps, no air-conditioning, sweating all the way

through our first vacation to Florida theme parks.


To love a country as if you’ve lost one: as if

it were you on a plane departing from America

forever, clouds closing like curtains on your country,

the last scene in which you’re a madman scribbling

the names of your favorite flowers, trees, and birds

you’d never see again, your address and phone number

you’d never use again, the color of your father’s eyes,

your mother’s hair, terrified you could forget these.

To love a country as if I was my mother last spring

hobbling, insisting I help her climb all the way up

to the U.S. Capitol, as if she were here before you today

instead of me, explaining her tears, cheeks pink

as the cherry blossoms coloring the air that day when

she stopped, turned to me, and said: You know, mijo,

it isn’t where you’re born that matters, it’s where

you choose to die—that’s your country.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:





Intersectionality & Culture

Poems of Place

Literary Devices:


a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences


an instruction or a command


the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing

Sensory Detail

words used to invoke the five senses (vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell)


a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”