Notes for a Poem on Vizcaya Palace and Gardens
By Richard Blanco
Cherish the mangroves that were spared, or pity those cleared for the blueprint of a tycoon’s dream. Admire his palace, or curse it, built on crushed bones of the Tequesta. Honor their memory, or praise the hired-hands who dredged the swamp—bucket by bucket—into land, who cut the bedrock—block by block—into walls. Mourn the dried mud, or delight in the ponds mirroring the sky, the manor, the ego of its master. Ponder the ripples of your quiet reflection, or reflect on the ripples of his warped life. Question which he loved more: the art of his wealth, or the wealth of his art? Maybe both? Hear the fountains trickle out an adagio, or a bon vivant babble. Flatter the baroque gates, iron bars wrought into twists of black licorice, or condemn them and the gator-filled moat dug by the help to divide their lives of toil from the lives of leisure they served. Let your imagination feast on tasteful dinners of minty lamb chops and cognac, or smirk at the tasteless chatter of art as chattel: thirty-eight roomfuls of gilded desks and tasseled settees, church panels, and candelabras. Gaze into the antique mirrors and imagine all the faces they must’ve seen put on, or see nothing but the cracks of their tarnished glares. Compare the crystal tears of chandeliers to dew-dressed spider webs at dawn, or liken them to poor imitations of the stars no one can possess. Draw the precise geometry of stonework inlaid through every hall, or else simply trace the scatter of your mundane footsteps across the floors. Indulge in the decadence in Dionysus’ marble eyes and hips, or dismiss him as a naked mannequin-of-a-god—a misplaced fantasy of the tropics. Pluck a song from the harp in the music room, aching to be played again, or leave it aging mute with its desire. Revive the faded roses on the wallpaper, beat the Persian rugs, fluff the embroidered pillows, dust the mantle, rekindle the mammoth fire place, or let the living room die dimmed in its own history. Map the gardens’ every mossy path, every hedge maze. Don’t lose yourself, or let your self get lost. List all the flora you can: the weeping fig and strangler fig, the gumbo limbo and the java plum, the paradise tree and asparagus ferns, or quietly walk amid them as one without any names. Lie on the green face-up to the truth of the sun, or hide from it in the shade of a stone grotto nested with orchids. Ignore the butterfly that hovers in to greet you, or detail the sheen and dapple of its wings winking at you. Decide if the poem begins or ends here. Or write nothing at all—surrender the poem, let it disappear with the butterfly the moment it flutters away, free as all the beauty you can never catch, as invisible as the wind that carries all of it away.
Richard Blanco is the fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history and the youngest and the 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 characterizes his three collections of poetry as well as his two memoirs. His latest book, Boundaries, challenges the physical and psychological dividing lines that shadow the United States. He’s received numerous honorary doctorates and currently serves as Education Ambassador for The Academy of American Poets.