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Looking for the Gulf Motel

by Richard Blanco

Paperback, 83 pages, University of Pittsburgh Press, List Price: $10.85 |


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Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco: 'I Finally Felt Like I Was Home'

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Richard Blanco reads his poem "One Today" during President Obama's second inaugural, on Jan. 21. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco: 'I Finally Felt Like I Was Home'

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Looking For The Gulf Motel

The Name I Wanted:

Not Ricardo but Richard, because I felt

like Richard Burton—a true Anglo-Saxon

in tights reciting lines from Othello, because

I wanted to be as handsome as Richard Gere

in a white tuxedo, because I had a pinky ring

just like Richard Dawson on Family Feud,

because I knew I could be just as wholesome

as Richie Cunningham, just as American

as my father's favorite president, Nixon.

Richard—not Ricardo, not my nicknames:

El Negrito—Little Black Boy—for my skin

the color of dry tobacco when I was born,

or El Gallegito—the Little Galician, because

that's what Tía Noelia called anyone like me

born in Spain, not a hundred percent Cuban.

Not Rico, the name Lupe wrote on my desk

branding me as Barry Manilow's Latin lover

in ruffled sleeves dancing conga at the Copa,

Copa Cabana all of eighth grade. And definitely

not Ricardito—Little Ricky—worse than Dick.

Richard—descendant of British royals, not

the shepherds of my mother's family, not

the plantain farmers on my father's side.

Richard—name of German composers, not

the swish of machetes, rapping of bongos.

Richard—more elegant than my grandfather

in his polyester suit, Chiclets in his pocket,

more refined than my grandmother gnawing

mangos, passing gas at the kitchen sink.

Ricardo De Jesús Blanco, I dub thee myself

Sir Richard Jesus White,

defender of my own country, protector

of my wishes, conqueror of mirrors, sovereign

of my imagination—a name for my name.

Thicker Than Country

A Cuban like me living in Maine? Well,

what the hell, Mark loves his native snow

and I don't mind it, really. I love icicles,

even though I still decorate the house

with seashells and starfish. Sometimes

I want to raise chickens and pigs, wonder

if I could grow even a small mango tree

in my three-season porch. But mostly,

I'm happy with hemlocks and birches

towering over the house, their shadows

like sundials, the cool breeze blowing

even in the summer. Sometimes I miss

the melody of Spanish, a little, and I play

Celia Cruz, dance alone in the basement.

Sometimes I miss the taste of white rice

with picadillo—so I cook, but it's never

as good as my mother's. I don't miss her

or the smell of her Cuban bread as much

as I should. Most days I wonder why, but

when Mark comes home like an astronaut

dressed in his ski clothes, or I spy him

planting petunias in the spring, his face

smudged with this earth, or barbequing

in the summer when he asks me if I want

a hamberg or a cheezeberg as he calls them—

still making me laugh after twelve years—

I understand why the mountains here

are enough, white with snow or green

with palms, mountains are mountains,

but love is thicker than any country.

Looking for The Gulf Motel

Marco Island, Florida

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

The Gulf Motel with mermaid lampposts

and ship's wheel in the lobby should still be

rising out of the sand like a cake decoration.

My brother and I should still be pretending

we don't know our parents, embarrassing us

as they roll the luggage cart past the front desk

loaded with our scruffy suitcases, two-dozen

loaves of Cuban bread, brown bags bulging

with enough mangos to last the entire week,

our espresso pot, the pressure cooker—and

a pork roast reeking garlic through the lobby.

All because we can't afford to eat out, not even

on vacation, only two hours from our home

in Miami, but far enough away to be thrilled

by whiter sands on the west coast of Florida,

where I should still be for the first time watching

the sun set instead of rise over the ocean.

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

My mother should still be in the kitchenette

of The Gulf Motel, her daisy sandals from Kmart

squeaking across the linoleum, still gorgeous

in her teal swimsuit and amber earrings

stirring a pot of arroz-con-pollo, adding sprinkles

of onion powder and dollops of tomato sauce.

My father should still be in a terrycloth jacket

smoking, clinking a glass of amber whiskey

in the sunset at The Gulf Motel, watching us

dive into the pool, two boys he'll never see

grow into men who will be proud of him.

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

My brother and I should still be playing Parcheesi,

my father should still be alive, slow dancing

with my mother on the sliding-glass balcony

of The Gulf Motel. No music, only the waves

keeping time, a song only their minds hear

ten-thousand nights back to their life in Cuba.

My mother's face should still be resting against

his bare chest like the moon resting on the sea,

the stars should still be turning around them.

There should be nothing here I don't remember . . .

My brother should still be thirteen, sneaking

rum in the bathroom, sculpting naked women

from sand. I should still be eight years old

dazzled by seashells and how many seconds

I hold my breath underwater—but I'm not.

I am thirty-eight, driving up Collier Boulevard,

looking for The Gulf Motel, for everything

that should still be, but isn't. I want to blame

the condos, their shadows for ruining the beach

and my past, I want to chase the snowbirds away

with their tacky mansions and yachts, I want

to turn the golf courses back into mangroves,

I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was

and pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.

From Looking for the Gulf Hotel by Richard Blanco. Copyright 2012 by Richard Blanco. Excerpted by permission of Pittsburgh University Press.