12:05pm

Mon January 21, 2013
The Two-Way

WATCH: 'One Today,' An Inaugural Poem

Originally published on Mon January 21, 2013 4:13 pm

Today, Richard Blanco became the fifth poet to read at the inauguration of a United States president.

Blanco, the first Latino, openly gay and youngest poet to receive the honor, wrote "One Today," for the occasion. (For a bit of background, you can listen to his Morning Edition interview.)

Atop this post is video of Blanco reading the poem and the full text follows:

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 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

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 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

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, the poet Richard Blanco joined an elite club, becoming only the nation's fifth inaugural poet. It's a tradition begun by John F. Kennedy, revived by Bill Clinton and carried on by President Obama.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Blanco's family fled Cuba in 1968. He grew up in Miami and he is openly gay. Earlier this month on MORNING EDITION, he said writing a poem for the inauguration is a difficult assignment. But, he added, writing about America is not an unfamiliar topic for him.

RICHARD BLANCO: It was subject I felt somewhat comfortable, but the challenge of it was how to maintain sort of that sense of intimacy and that conversational tone in a poem that obviously has to sort of encompass a whole lot more than just my family, my experience.

BLOCK: We're going to listen now to some of what Richard Blanco came up with. His inaugural poem is called "One Today."

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. The 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 for all of us today.

BLOCK: Richard Blanco's poem concludes with this refrain.

BLANCO: 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, 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 name it together.

(APPLAUSE)

SIEGEL: Richard Blanco, delivering his inaugural poem today before a crowd of hundreds of thousands on the National Mall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.