Tuesday, January 22, 2013

One Today by Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco reading his inaugural poem
"One Today"

For any of you who did not see and hear Richard Blanco read his poem "One Today" at yesterday's inauguration of President Barack Obama, it is my pleasure to provide you with this clip.

I found it positively Whitman-esque in the way it captures facets of American life. Some of its lines still haunt me.

Listen. Listen again. 

'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 
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 cafe tables, Hear: the doors we open 
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, 
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos dias 
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 


  1. Thank you for posting "One Today" and Richard Blanco's reading of it. A group of us gathered on Monday morning at a friend's house to watch the inauguration. When Mr. Blanco took the podium and read this, there was not a sound as the poem was recited, nor for the moments after. I think we all felt we had heard something so special it struck a chord in each of us that no one wanted to break.

    I saw an interesting interview with Richard Blanco on television, though I can't remember which station, sorry to say. He was delightful to listen to and, when asked how he prepared for the recitation, he talked about how he practiced, outside, since he would be reading outside, in front of his nephew's snowman, who was smiling.

    It is funny you mention Whitman, Belle, as on Monday I read a poem by Whitman on the second inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. It was on Garrison Keillor's American Almanac, and as I read it, it seemed so timely in spite of the century and a half of years gone by.

  2. Penny, I too gathered with a few friends to watch the inauguration. By the time Mr. Blanco was finished with his recitation, we all had tears in our eyes. I have since listened to it five or six times and love it more with each hearing.

    I love the story about reading to the snowman.

    A Rant: I hate that this clip has so much Twitter-twaddle and other irrelevant comments slashing across the screen as Mr. Blanco is reading. ABC should be ashamed of itself. Can we for once just have one thing going on on-screen at a time? Did we need to be bombarded with words that take away from the real words that were being read? I am surprised commentators weren't commentating during the recitation!