How are our lives shaped by decisions made long before we were born?

That's a question poet Richard Blanco wrestles with in his latest installment of "Village Voice," Boston Public Radio's recurring conversation about how poetry can help us understand the news of the day. He looked at two poems, "Of Consequence, Inconsequently," and "Taking My Cousin's Photo At The Statue Of Liberty," that look at how the notions of destiny and chance shape the immigrant experience. 

"When we're born, in a way, so much is already decided," said Blanco, who is the fifth person to serve as the inaugural poet in American history. "We walk in on the fifth act of the play. [There are] ways that so many people — by our grandparents, great-grandparents, sort of dictate our lives."

That was true for Blanco as well. Born to Cuban parents in Spain, he immigrated to the United States when he was still an infant. "I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and then imported to the United States," he jokes.

In the poem "Of Consequence, Inconsequently," he looks at how these foundational aspects of his identity were shaped by chance. What if things had been different?

"I've always wondered, like the poem says, what if my parents had gone to Australia or something? I have no choice, in a sense, in this life that has been handed to me," he explained. Blanco ties this to the experience faced by participants in the DACA program, also known as "Dreamers," who — having been brought to the United States at a young age by their parents — are now faced with an uncertain future.

"This echoes to me something of what the 'Dreamers' go through," Blanco said. "Where do I come from? Where do I belong? What does the future hold?"

Click the audio player above to hear more from Richard Blanco, and follow along with the poems below.


Of Consequence, Inconsequently,


A bearded shepherd in a gray wool vest,

a beret lowered to his brow, that’s how

my blood has always imagined the man

who was my great-grandfather, his eyes

hazel, I was told once. But I’ll never see


what he saw of his life in the cold rivers

of Asturias. I can only imagine the fog

caressing the hills of his village and him

watching from the window of the train

he took to Sevilla—for love, my mother

explained to me once, holding a ghost


of him in a photo on his wedding day

with an ascot tie and buttoned shoes

standing in a room filled with mahogany

and red roses. Were they red? What color

were the tiers of Spanish lace cascading

from my great-grandmother’s dress?


Nothing can speak for them now, tell me

what they saw in their eyes that morning

they left for love or war or both, crossing

the sea to Cuban palms and cane fields

quietly sweetening under the quiet sun.

But what if they’d never met, what color


would my eyes be? Who would I be now

had they gone to Johannesburg instead,

or Maracaibo, or not left Sevilla at all?

Into what seas would I have cast thoughts,

what other cities would I’ve drowned in?


The countries I would’ve lost, or betrayed,

the languages I would speak or not speak,

the names that would’ve been my names—

I’d like to believe I’ve willed every detail

of my life, but I’m a consequence, a drop

of rain, a seed fallen by chance, here

in the middle of a story I don’t know,

having to finish it and call it my own.


Taking My Cousin’s Photo at the Statue of Liberty

for Roxana


May she never miss the sun or the rain in the valley

trickling from Royal palms, or the plush red earth,

or the flutter of sugarcane fields and poincianas, or

the endless hem of turquoise sea around the island,

may she never remember the sea or her life again

in Cuba selling glossy postcards of the revolution

and El Che to sweaty Germans, may she never forget

the broken toilet and peeling stucco of her room

in a government-partitioned mansion dissolving

like a sand castle back into the Bay of Cienfuegos,

may she never have to count the dollars we’d send

for her wedding dress, or save egg rations for a cake,

may she be as American as I wanted to be once, in love

with its rosy-cheeked men in breeches and white wigs,

with the calligraphy of our Liberty and Justice for All,

our We The People, may she memorize all fifty states,

our rivers and mountains, sing “God Bless America”

like she means it, like she’s never lived anywhere

else but here, may she admire our wars and our men

on the moon, may she believe our infomercials, buy

designer perfumes and underwear, drink Starbucks,

drive a Humvee, and have a dream, may she never

doubt America, may this be her country more than

it is mine when she lifts her Diet Coke like a torch

into the June sky and clutches her faux Chanel purse

to her chest, may she look into New York Harbor

for the rest of her life and hold still when I say, Smile.