Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Inaugural Parade, 2013

The American poet Richard Blanco was selected by the White House to create a special poem to commemorate the Second Inauguration of President Obama. Some of you may have heard the poem recited by Blanco during the inaugural ceremony on January 21st.  In the event you missed it, you can read it below.

Any poem addressed to the entire nation will undoubtedly find its share of criticism, particularly from those who do not share the President's vision for the country. From my perspective, however, "One Today" succeeds because it captures not only the spirit and diversity of our nation, but also the President's conviction that what unites people is greater than what divides them.  "All of us," Blanco proclaims, are "as vital as the one light we move through."

                                                     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 the 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 all 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, of 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.

To hear and see Richard Blanco's recitation of the inaugural poem, click here. Publications of Richard Blanco's poetry include City of a Hundred Fires (University of Pittsburg Press, 1998), by Richard Blanco; Directions to the Beach of the Dead (University of Arizona Press, 2005), by Richard Blanco; and Looking for the Gulf Motel (University of Pittsburg Press, 2012), by Richard Blanco. 


  1. I never say ‘wow’, it is far too hackneyed, overused, bland. But ‘Wow’ it’ll have to be.

    I cannot imagine anyone finding fault with this poem straight from the heart of America to the heart of America. The simplicity, the depth, the genuine emotion spoke to me - a non-American.

    1. I'm thrilled that you liked this poem so much, Friko. A "wow" from you in poetry is probably the equivalent of the three stars awarded by Michelin to the very best restaurants. I'm especially delighted to hear that the poem also spoke to you as a non-American. Quite frankly, I think that, notwithstanding the imagery, the message of unity is more universal than national, and that makes sense when you consider the poet's background. Blanco was born in Spain before immigrating with his Cuban exile family to the United States, where he was educated and continues to live.

  2. I was profoundly moved hearing Richard Blanco's poem at the Obama inauguration. It was so real, so true, and so profoundly inclusive.

    Events and attitudes in the USA are so divisive of late ... and this incredible poet spoke about our common, everyday, unifying experiences in an effort to gather us in and dissolve the illusion of differences and division.

    A really significant moment that I enjoyed revisiting here, George.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Bonnie, and I'm so glad to hear that you were moved by Richard Blanco's poem. I have read the poem numerous times by now, and I'm always moved by it for the reasons you state. It's real, it's true, and it's inclusive of everyone — not just Americans, in my view, but everyone who walks the earth on any given day. After a bitterly fought election and four years of divisive rhetoric aimed at this president, it is sobering to have someone remind us of the common hopes and dreams that unite all people.

  3. Thank you so much for putting it here!! I enjoyed hearing him on that day, and am enjoying even more the luxury of reading it and savoring it at a much different pace.

    1. Thanks, Karin. I've watched the video of Blanco's inaugural recitation several times. Personally, however, I get more out of the poem when I read it closely myself, finding the rhythm and pace that works for me. The video is a bit distracting from the standpoint of truly appreciating the poem, because the camera is constantly cutting away to reveal the reactions of the politicians in the audience.

  4. A poem in praise of the one light each of us reaches for through our own story — our own breath, our own sound, our own hands' work. The evening of the poem ends at home, and I wonder if we can really feel it, map it, create it — together.

    Occasional poems are awfully difficult to write. I read in his interview at the Poetry Foundation that he was asked to write THREE, and they would choose one, and it was just a matter of weeks (6, if I recall correctly) beforehand. I think he did a beautiful job.

    I know what you mean about reading the poem rather than watching the video to get past the distraction. However, I love having the cultural experience of seeing the dignitaries and populace in the video listening to him read, as one part of the reality, especially Jimmy Carter, who himself is a poet. I wondered what he thought of it.

    I love your photo of the parade. Those redcoats look brilliant against your blue background.

    Great post!

    1. I also think Blanco did an amazing job, especially considering that he had to write three poems in just a few weeks. "One Today," however, seems to have really hit the mark in terms of capturing both the uniqueness of the inaugural moment and the diversity that underpins the President's vision for the country.

      I'm sure that Jimmy Carter listened to the poem approvingly, but I found myself distracted by than wincing expression of Eric Cantor, who clearly did not understand Blanco's message.

      Glad you liked the photo.

  5. Blanco gets it right here. As simple as it is, that last word "together" is what is most important for all of us - as citizens, lawmakers, and human beings.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, "A." Yes, I think the entire poem is aimed at reminding people of what we share "together."