Complaint of El Río Grande

for Aylin Barbieri

I was meant for all things to meet:
to make the clouds pause in the mirror
of my waters, to be home to fallen rain
that finds its way to me, to turn eons
of loveless rock into lovesick pebbles
and carry them as humble gifts back
to the sea which brings life back to me.

I felt the sun flare, praised each star
flocked about the moon long before
you did. I’ve breathed air you’ll never
breathe, listened to songbirds before
you could speak their names, before
you dug your oars in me, before you
created the gods that created you.

Then countries—your invention—maps
jigsawing the world into colored shapes
caged in bold lines to say: you’re here,
not there, you’re this, not that, to say:
yellow isn’t red, red isn’t black, black is
not white, to say: mine, not ours, to say
war, and believe life’s worth is relative.

You named me big river, drew me—blue,
thick to divide, to say: spic and Yankee,
to say: wetback and gringo. You split me
in two—half of me us, the rest them. But
I wasn’t meant to drown children, hear
mothers’ cries, never meant to be your
geography: a line, a border, a murderer.

I was meant for all things to meet:
the mirrored clouds and sun’s tingle,
birdsongs and the quiet moon, the wind
and its dust, the rush of mountain rain—
and us. Blood that runs in you is water
flowing in me, both life, the truth we
know we know: be one in one another.

How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco. Copyright © 2019 by Richard Blanco. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “How to Love a Country.”

Reflections