Jan 13, 2014 “The Port Pilot”

Dear readers,

between holiday travel and once-every-2-decades weather systems… here we are after an unintended hiatus.
Last year at this time we were listening intently to Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem, “One Today.” Yesterday Mr. Blanco popped into my world again, via the NYTimes magazine, while I was riding a train. In a tiny blurb interview titled “How to Appreciate a Poem,” he said:
“Read it out loud. When you read a poem aloud, something amazing happens. It becomes a part of your physiology. Your body becomes actually involved in understanding and responding to it. You have more of a visceral reaction.”
After asking long-time reader John Bradshaw for his permission, I’ve also been meaning for several months to dedicate a reading on Monday’s Verse to his dad, Jack Bradshaw. A good handful of our readership had the pleasure to meet Jack Bradshaw, some of us many times. He died about a year ago after a long and happy life, and after a relatively brief bout with cancer. The Richard Blanco poem “The Port Pilot” seemed perfect to me, but I’ve never been able to find a properly formatted version online. This version I’m printing actually comes from a radio transcript, but I later heard the poem described as a prose-poem and as a “tumbling sentence,” so I don’t know if it is actually supposed to have line breaks, and I don’t know if the spellings are correct. But it’s just a transcript of a living thing, so heeding the advice of Mr. Blanco, let’s read it aloud together in honor of Jack Bradshaw, a humble and generous man. -ed.

Before I knew him as a butcher, coming home with blood stains on his cuffs that Mama could never wash out in the kitchen sink, before I learned he’d spent all day in the sky in loafers and a necktie counting other people’s money in a tower with a view he couldn’t afford, years before he started gambling with me on cockfights at Tio Budede’s farm every Saturday night, teaching me how to bet on death, long before he was diagnosed and staying alive became his full-time job, his agenda filled with appointments to kill whatever was killing him, a lifetime before I had to cradle him in and out of bed, he carried me on his shoulders over the jetty at the port.

Minutes after I’m called to the hospital, I remember that day, sitting together on a rock, watching the ships glide past us, when he told me that years before he was my father he was a port pilot in Havana, steering ships safely into harbor, then guiding them out to sea again, never to see them again, seconds before I hear his last breath, told to leave the room.



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