I am a huge civics nerd, it is true. I watched most of the inauguration when I got home from work and cried my eyes out. The best moment as far as I am concerned was Richard Blanco’s poem. Civic Nerd + Art Nerd = PERFECTION. I hope you agree. I have included the text of the poem, a video of Mr. Blanco reading the poem at the inauguration, and an article he wrote below.
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
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
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.
Inaugural poet: My story is America’s
Editor’s note: Richard Blanco, a poet and teacher, was chosen to be the nation’s fifth inaugural poet. He is the author of the collections of poetry “City of a Hundred Fires,” “Directions to the Beach of the Dead,” “Place of Mind,” and “Looking for the Gulf Motel.” Follow him on Twitter at @rblancopoet.
(CNN) — As my official bio reads, I was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States — meaning my mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of my family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid, where I was born. Less than two months later, we emigrated once more and settled in New York City, then eventually in Miami, where I was raised and educated.
By the time I was 45 days old, I belonged to three countries. My first newborn photo appears on my U.S. alien registration card. As an adult, I see this as a foreshadowing of what would eventually obsess my writing and my psyche: the negotiation of identity.
My first encounter with this was with cultural negotiation. My childhood was braced between two imaginary worlds. The first was the nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba in the hearts and minds of my parents, grandparents, and immediate family, but also the exile community at large in Miami. “Somewhere” there was an island paradise we all came from, a paradise we lost (for complex reasons I was too young to comprehend), but nevertheless, a paradise, a homeland known as la patria — to which we’d all return someday, exactly as we were, to find it exactly as it was.
That storyline was what I knew of that homeland I imagined from family folklore told across the dinner table, gossip at beauty salons with my mother, or in the aisles of the mercados shopping for Cuban staples like chorizo and yucca with my grandmother; or from old photo albums that they had managed to smuggle out of Cuba, and the rum-drunk talk about “what happened” from the men playing dominos on the terraza in the backyard.
The other imaginary world — America– was at the other end of the spectrum.
Although technically we lived in the United States, the Cuban community was culturally insular in Miami during the 1970s, bonded together by the trauma of exile. What’s more, it seemed that practically everyone was Cuban: my teachers, my classmates, the mechanic, the bus driver. I didn’t grow up feeling different or treated as a minority. The few kids who got picked on in my grade school were the ones with freckles and funny last names like Dawson and O’Neil.
Against that setting, America seemed like some “other” place. And as a child, I truly believed that the real America, just beyond my reach, was exactly like the America I saw on TV reruns like “The Brady Bunch” and “Leave it to Beaver.” In my case, the stereotypical American family was the “other,” the exotic life yearned for, as much as I yearned to finally see that imaginary Cuba. Sorting out these contradictions and yearnings was an everyday part of my childhood, and one of the main themes of my writing today.
The other negotiation was the engineer versus the poet. As might be typical, my exile/immigrant family pushed for me to pursue a career that would ensure I would have a better life than they did. Also, in a working-class family, the idea of pursuing a life in the arts was outside the realm of possibilities. My family even thought architecture was too “artsy.”
Add to that the cultural-generational divide when it came to the arts in America. Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot were not dinner conversation at my house. My parents didn’t even know of the Rolling Stones. They wanted me to continue the story of the “American dream” that they had begun. Fortunately — or unfortunately — I was a whiz at math, and when the time came to decide on a career path, I succumbed to their loving insistence. But I always harbored a creative spirit throughout my childhood, completely taken by Legos, paint-by-number sets, latch-hook rug kits — anything that gave me expression.
My sexual identity was something I also had to negotiate. The antagonist in my coming-out story was my grandmother, a woman as xenophobic as she was homophobic. Anything she perceived as culturally “weird,” she also labeled as “faggotry” — “mariconería.” This included my playing with toys like G.I. Joes and action figures of super heroes (Wonder Woman being my favorite). Convinced that I was queer — she had good intuition, I guess — she was verbally and psychologically abusive because she was also convinced she could make me a “real” man.
She scared me into a closet so deep and dark that the idea of living as a gay man was completely, like a career in arts, out of the realm of possibilities. And so, like many gay men of my generation, I led a straight life, and was even engaged twice to be married, until I came out in my mid-20s.
Being named poet laureate for the inauguration personally validates and stitches together several ideals against which I have long measured America, since the days of watching “My Three Sons” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” reruns. For one, the essence of the American dream: how a little Cuban-American kid on the margins of mainstream America could grow up with confidence, have the opportunity to become an engineer thanks to the hard work of his parents who could barely speak English, and then go on, choosing to become a poet who is now asked to speak to, for and about the entire nation.
The most powerful quality of our country is that each day is full of a million possibilities: We are a country of fierce individualism, which invites me to shape my life as I see fit. As I reflect on this, I see how the American story is in many ways my story — a country still trying to negotiate its own identity, caught between the paradise of its founding ideals and the realities of its history, trying to figure it out, trying to “become” even today — the word “hope” as fresh on our tongues as it ever was.
Regardless of my cultural, socioeconomic background and my sexuality, I have been given a place at the table, or more precisely, at the podium, because that is America.