The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Thanksgiving, First Night of Chanukah & Snow

By Richard Blanco


Although Tia Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter --
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer --
Mama never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.


There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day -- pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted --
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything -- "Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.


By seven I had grown suspicious -- we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lazaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either --
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.


A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.


Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tio Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY", Tio Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly -- "esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mama presented her ochre pie --
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tia Maria made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered --
it was 1970 and 46 degrees --
in America.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tio Berto was the last to leave.


The day before Thanksgiving is always weird in terms of work and school both. Paul worked from home, starting early because he wanted to pick up Daniel from College Park after classes but before rush hour; Adam only had classes till lunchtime, at which point he called me for a ride home for himself and Maddy who wanted to go to Tyson's Buffet. Since we had to drive them anyway, we went out to lunch too (the buffet had the vegetarian seafood, yum), then stopped in Mom's Organic Market to get tofurkey for Thanksgiving. Then Paul took us home and went to get Daniel in the snow, which fell all afternoon though the ground was too warm for it to stick.

I stayed home with Adam and Maddy, who got permission to stay for dinner and the first night of Chanukah. My mom originally thought Nicole and her family would be arriving around lunchtime, but weather delayed her flight, so we invited my parents over for dinner too -- Paul made latkes and fried chicken, my mother brought apple pie, we figured we might as well start the weekend of overeating for the holiday early! In the evening I showed Daniel the Doctor Who anniversary specials, then we watched Comedy Central's South Park greatest hits marathon (and got lucky and bumped into the Key & Peele Les Mis parody). Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Chanukah!


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