My librarian is chic unique. And so are her ideas. Like this one ~ a blind date with a book.
At her poetry workshop, she asked us to marry a favorite poem with a photograph. The submissions were oddball, off beat and original.
Mine was none of the above.
I love the uniqueness of an occasional poem, one written to comment on a particular event. Recently I, along with the rest of the nation, heard Richard Blanco honor America. He wrote a simple and direct poem about private lives and public hopes. I cannot imagine the weight of that challenge.
Blanco had to write three new poems for the inauguration committee. But it wasn’t his first occasional poem. He wrote one other in 2008, not because he was asked, but because he was so moved by a photograph. It was a historical photo of the very place where he was working as an engineer on an improvement project. At the groundbreaking ceremony, the citizens of South Miami listened to Blanco read just as raptly as we did on Inauguration Day. Only on Sunset Drive, the poet wore a hard hat.
And so it began: the earth torn, split open
by a dirt road cutting through palmettos
and wild tamarind trees defending the land
against the sun. Beside the road, a shack
leaning into the wind, on the wooden porch,
crates of avocados and limes, white chickens
pecking at the floor boards, and a man
under the shadow of his straw hat, staring
into the camera in 1914. He doesn’t know
within a lifetime the unclaimed land behind
him will be cleared of scrub and sawgrass,
the soil will be turned, made to give back
what the farmers wish, their lonely houses
will stand acres apart from one another,
jailed behind the boughs of their orchards.
He’ll never buy sugar at the general store,
mail love letters at the post office, or take
a train at the depot of the town that will rise
out of hundred-million years of coral rock
on promises of paradise. He’ll never ride
a Model-T puttering down the dirt road
that will be paved over, stretch farther and
farther west into the horizon, reaching for
the setting sun after which it will be named.
He can’t even begin to imagine the shadows
of buildings rising taller than the palm trees,
the street lights glowing like counterfeit stars
dotting the sky above the road, the thousands
who will take the road everyday, who’ll also
call this place home less than a hundred years
after the photograph of him hanging today
in City Hall as testament. He’ll never meet
me, the engineer hired to transform the road
again, bring back tree shadows and birdsongs,
build another promise of another paradise
meant to last another forever. He’ll never see
me, the poet standing before him, trying
to read his mind across time, wondering if
he was thinking what I’m today, both of us
looking down the road that will stretch on
for years after I too disappear into a photo.
Richard Blanco, “Photo of a Man on Sunset Drive: 1914, 2008” from Place of Mind
, published by Floating Wolf Quarterly. Copyright © 2011 by Richard Blanco. Source: Place of Mind
(Floating Wolf Quarterly, 2011)