Richard Blanco Inauguration Poem: Grounded in American Place

Richard Blanco read his wonderful poem at Obama's second Inauguration. Beginning with the image of sunlight spreading a "simple truth" across a morning landscape, "One Today" is grounded in American place. It's been called "Whitmanesque";  direct and clean, broad and sweeping. In tribute, I've paired my photographs with Blanco's poem.

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,

One sun rose on us today ... waking up rooftops

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 across windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors,

... millions of faces in morning's mirrors

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—

fruit stands ... like rainbows begging our praise.

... fruit stands ... like rainbows begging our praise

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,mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear itthrough the day's gorgeous din of honking cabs,buses launching down avenues, the symphonyof footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through

cancer-billboard-flower

... the impossible vocabulary of sorrow

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.

 

 

 

as mothers watch children slide into the day

Many prayers ... as children slide into the day

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, rooting us

One ground ... rooting us

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands,

 

 

 

hand planting windmills

Hands ... planting windmills

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

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains

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

Hear: squeaky playground swings

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

 

every language spoken into one wind

... every language spoken into one wind

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

One sky ... The Mississippi and the Colorado ... the sea

 

 

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

Thank the work of our hands

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.

some days guessing at the weather of our lives

... some days guessing at the weather of our lives

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

... giving thanks for a love that loves you back

 

 

 

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

We head home

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.

 

 

All of us facing the stars together

All of us facing the stars ... together

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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