Varadero en Alba – Richard Blanco – Commentary

Here is another poem from Richard Blanco – ‘Varadero at Dawn’ taken from his Website. This is a very different poem from the inauguration poem which may have been constrained by the guidelines for producing that work. This poem is very personal and is based on his visit to Varadero beach in Cuba where his father came from.

First RB’s own comments about this poem …

According to my parents, Miami Beach was a filthy, ugly beach. There was no beach in the world that could even compare to their beautiful Varadero in Cuba. I never believed their nostalgic chatter, until I saw Varadero for the first time during my first visit to Cuba. This poem is about my encounter with that landscape at sunrise and memories of my father. The stanzas in Spanish were written first, then the English stanzas, which are a kind of response echoing similar images, but are not direct translations. They are reflections of each other, responses of how my two “halves”–the Spanish and English-experienced Varadero.

 Here are the Spanish lines that head each of three distinct numbered stanzas. The English translation in italics is via a friend …

Varadero en Alba
Varadero at Dawn

i ven
tus olas roncas murmuran entre ellas
las luciérnagas se han cansado
las gaviotas esperan como ansiosas reinas

you come
your roaring waves whisper among themselves
the fireflies are exhausted
the seagulls wait like anxious queens

ii ven
tus palmas viudas quieren su danzón
y las nubes se mueven inquietas como gitanas,
adivina la magia encerrada del caracol

you come
your empty palms want their dance
and the clouds move like restless gypsies
figure out the magic locked inside the seashell

iii ven
las estrellas pestañosas tienen sueño
en la arena, he grabado tu nombre,
en la orilla, he clavado mi remo

you come
the blinking stars are sleepy
on the sand, I have printed your name
on the shore, I have wedged my oar

My comments on the Spanish –

S1 RB has made a special visit to go to the beach of his father … waves whispering is appropriate (father talking)  …  the fireflies never ending activity and the seagulls dominate the scene … they are anxious queens … perhaps because in the next stanza we find the clouds are ready to shake the palms … seagulls are only queens the weather is king

S2 … clouds = gypsies (wanderers that carry all with them) … figuring magic hidden in shells – perhaps thinking of his family history and Cuban culture

S3 …morning is coming and stars are dying … strong personal identity and link with his father … wedging an oar – equating to personal direction – oar controls journey and linking RB symbolically to his father.

Below is the full poem with the English reflections and at the end my comments on the English text.

Varadero en Alba

1 … ven
tus olas roncas murmuran entre ellas
las luciérnagas se han cansado
las gaviotas esperan como ansiosas reinas

We gypsy through the island’s north ridge
ripe with villages cradled in cane and palms,
the raw harmony of fireflies circling about
amber faces like dewed fruit in the dawn;
the sun belongs here, it returns like a soldier
loyal to the land, the leaves turn to its victory,
a palomino rustles its mane in blooming light.
I have no other vision of this tapestry.

2 … ven
tus palmas viudas quieren su danzón
y las nubes se mueven inquietas como gitanas,
adivina la magia encerrada del caracol

The morning pallor blurs these lines:
horizon with shore, mountain with road;
the shells conceal their chalky magic,
the dunes’ shadows lengthen and grow;
I too belong here, sun, and my father
who always spoke paradise of the same sand
I now impress barefoot on a shore I’ve known
only as a voice held like water in my hands.

3 … ven
las estrellas pestañosas tienen sueño
en la arena, he grabado tu nombre,
en la orilla, he clavado mi remo

There are names chiselled in the ivory sand,
striped fish that slip through my fingers
like wet and cool ghosts among the coral,
a warm rising light, a vertigo that lingers;
I wade in the salt and timed waves,
facing the losses I must understand,
staked oars crucifixed on the shore.
Why are we nothing without this land?

My comments on the English –

S1 RB is a gypsy in the way he is travelling the Island  villages like ripe fruit folded in the tropical scene … the fireflies are in harmony with the dawn light = dew on fresh fruit … the sun belongs and is returning and RB the son is returning to this sacred place – loyal like a soldier.

S2 … the blurred lines of morning equate to the blurred lines of knowing this family place for the first time … but here RB emphatically states that he belongs here by making an imprint on the sand (and of course he is involved with words and print) … before the voice was like holding water in the hand – he has never known this place – till this day

S3 …perhaps reflecting on family that have identity with the beach … chiselled = and perhaps their occupation was associated with the beach (fishing?) … he feels dizzy with these thoughts in the brightening morning … he immerses in the sea … the timed waves and with full focus on his ancestry trying to understand lose of those he has known and understand his own being … and then a concocted word ‘crucifixed’ implies crucified and fixed … the situation cannot be changed … and then reflecting – why is this land is so important to our history.

Here is the link to Richard Blanco’s site which includes a reading of this poem –
http://www.richard-blanco.com/city-of-a-hundred-fires/varadero-en-alba.php

Your word in my ear ...

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