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Poem by Richard Blanco: 'El Americano in the Mirror'

Poem by Richard Blanco: 'El Americano in the Mirror'

Richard Blanco

President Obama's gay inaugural poet shares a work from his book How to Love a Country, which is also an apology to a boy he once bullied.


Maybe you don't remember, or don't want to, or
maybe, like me, you've never been able to forget:
May 1979, fifth-grade recess, I grabbed your collar,
shoved you up against the wall behind the chapel,
called you a sissy-ass americano to your face, then
punched you--hard as I could. Maybe you still live,
as I do, with the awful crack of my knuckles' slam
on your jaw, and the grim memory of your lip split.

Why didn't you punch me back? That would've hurt
less than the jab of your blue eyes dulled with pain--
how you let your body wilt, lean into me, and we
walked arm in arm to the boys' room, washed off
the blood and dirt. Is that how you remember it?
What you can't remember is what I thought when
our gazes locked in the mirror and I wanted to say:
I'm sorry, maybe I love you. Perhaps even kiss you.

Did you feel it, too? At that instant did we both
somehow understand what I'm only now capable
of putting into these words: that I didn't hate you,
but envied you--the americano sissy I wanted to be
with sheer skin, dainty freckles, the bold consonants
of your English name, your perfectly starched shirts,
pleated pants, that showy Happy Days lunchbox,
your A-plus spelling quizzes that I barely passed.

Why didn't you snitch on me? I don't remember now
who told Sister Magdalene, but I'll never forget how
she wrung my ears until I cried for you, dragged me
to the back of the room, made me stand for the rest
of that day, praying the rosary to think hard about
my sins. And I did, I have for thirty-two years, Derek.
Whether you don't remember, don't want to, or never
forgot: forgive me, though I may never forgive myself.

Excerpted from How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco (Beacon Press, 2019). Reprinted with permission by Beacon Press.

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