Richard Blanco, inaugural poet, speaks to America

President Obama chose the first Cuban American and the first gay man to be the inaugural poet at his second inauguration this past Monday. Miami born and raised Richard Blanco is “a symbol of the new Miami, and a new America”, says  J. J. Colagrande, professor at Miami Dade College and author of novels Headz and Decò.

Blanco is only the fifth poet to participate in an inaugural ceremony: Robert Frost (1961), Maya Angelou (1993), Miller Williams (1997) and Elizabeth Alexander (2009) precede him.

A legacy of vice and hate stain the media image, and too often painful reality, of Miami. But, writes Colagrande,

“although Mr. Blanco lives in Maine, he has toiled in the relatively unknown world of poetry in Miami for years… [and ] the new Miami is where we take each other seriously; where we come together committed to the cultural and intellectual renaissance of our city; where we re-define ourselves for ourselves and the rest of the country. Mr. Blanco reading a poem on Monday at the presidential inauguration is a day of pride and joy for all those in the letters, Cuban-Americans, the LGBT community and every one of us.”

Blanco works as an engineer, is a member of the Bethel, Maine, planning board, and has kept his poetry mostly to himself and, of course, the intimate national network of poets and poetry lovers. In December, he  was tasked by the inaugural committee with writing three original poems, one of which the committee would ask him to read at the ceremony in Washington on January 21. At age 44, he’s the youngest inaugural poet.

Richard Blanco’s Inaugural poem, One Today, perfectly and intimately captures the singular details of “Americanization” in the arts, crafts, and geographies of the diverse immigrant and native contributions to this multinational and multiracial country we are becoming, and from which we arose. Each stream, each life is unique, rich, and indispensable. Yet one sun, one sky, one ground, one sea of stars, one home –  unite us.

One Today
Inaugural Poem 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 20 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 20 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
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 clothesline.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across cafe 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




John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.