Richard Blanco has officially entered the history books in the most poetic of ways…
The 44-year-old Cuban-American poet became the first Latino and first openly gay poet to read during Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration on Monday.
Blanco, the fifth poet to read at a presidential inauguration wrote a new poem for the occasion. Entitled “One Today,” the poem garnered warm words from Obama and Beyonce, who sang the National Anthem, at the event.
The poem, in keeping with Blanco’s work, features loose, open lines of mostly conversational verse, a flexible iambic pentameter stanza form.
The poem follows America over the course of one day, from sunrise to sunset. It mentions Blanco’s working-class origins in mentioning his father “cutting sugarcane” and his mother toiling in a grocery store “for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”
The poem features a mention of real-world events elements like the reference to the Newtown, CT, shootings in “the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain/the empty desks of twenty children marked absent/today, and forever”; the mention of “the Freedom Tower” and to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
In the poem, Blanco spans as much of the nation as he can, filling the poem with the sights and sounds of urban, suburban and rural landscapes and cities. He consistently returns to the notion of oneness — that on this one day in time like we do on all days, we all gaze up at “one sky, our sky” to write our hopes, dreams, frustrations and elations.
Here’s the text:
One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.
Poet Richard Blanco is the author of City of a Hundred Fires, Directions to the Beach of the Dead and Looking for the Gulf Motel.
Nico Tucci/Courtesy Richard Blanco
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello
shalom, buon giorno
namaste or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together