Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"One Today....One Sky": Richard Blanco's Inaugural Poem

21 January 2013
Below is the inaugural poem by 44-year-old poet Richard Blanco, read at the 2nd inauguration of Barack Obama.  I want to record it for myself, for my kids, for posterity.  Blanco is the first gay Latino to read a poem at a presidential inaugural.  Starting with Robert Frost in 1961, there have only been four inaugural poets. 

Blanco's mother was from Cuba; he was raised in Miami. The Cuban community there is vibrant and diverse, in the recent past virulently anti-Castro but now less so.  The younger generations are establishing their own American identity and a different connection to Cuba than those first immigrants.  Blanco demonstrates this, a rising generation of Cuban-Americans who have become more American than Cuban. 

The poet and the poem embrace President Obama's theme of civil rights, making progress toward our ideals, and inclusion in a diverse society: from Seneca Falls, to Selma, to Stonewall. 

Blanco's poem fit right in, a song for immigrants to America, the story of constant waves of newcomers from other shores.   America is, afterall, a nation of immigrants. It was one of the things I represented the most when I served with the Peace Corps in Ukraine. American diversity, our multi-cultural fabric, quite different in Ukraine.  

We all meld eventually, not melt our origins away, but meld like a great cultural stew, after a few generations.  We meld on the land of the native Americans.  The people and cultures here before us. Long before  us. One land.  The only other theme I would add to a poem about America becoming.    

Blanco's song for immigrants who struggled to make a new place home and to create better opportunities for their children, resonated, for I am a third generation child of Italian immigrants.  A song for his mother who worked hard all her life "so I could write this poem."  A song for all immigrant mothers and fathers. 

"One today" is a powerful metaphor, and "One sky," "One moon," the universal framework and the transcendent unity of humanity.

"One Today" - By Richard Blanco
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.
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
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
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, howdy, 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
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.
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