I 'm not a big poetry guy - "real men don't do poetry" and all - but I confess to writing an awful lot of it as I first left the black emptiness of my heroin addiction. Those days - and those poems - were dark, gloomy, with tinges of evil that haunted me from the inner recesses of my conscience.
But they were cleansing, too, washing my mind and my soul of the horrors of my behavior, my lack of self-control, my all consuming narcissism - the selfishness of my addiction and the misery and pain that selfishness impressed upon all others who crossed my path during those years....decades...so I understand, perhaps too well, the power of poetry, on both the writer and the reader, too.
I listened to Richard Blanco's poem as he delivered it during the Obama inauguration, and at the time, it didn't really leave that big an impression; the rigors of my daily life had by that point pushed their way into my ability to devote full attention to his words, and the centerpiece of the moment - Obama's 2nd term start as our 44th President of these United States - had completed. Blanco's words landed on ears that were at that point already sifting out anything not related to the demands of the work I do each day and my mind had already shifted into "work" gear, so while I recall thinking it was something I'd listen to again at a later date, I had no real intention of ever making some concerted effort to find it again.
As I settled in to my morning ritual - "surf, sipofcoffee, surf" - I came across a post that linked to Blanco's full text. I took a moment to read it and was particularly moved, perhaps more so than had I heard him read it, because reading a poem sometimes allows one to float through it unfettered by the distractions of preconceptions and interpretations that come with every outside stimuli.
Reading his poem in the quiet of the early morning, no distractions, no outside influences, allowed me to absorb and interpret the words one at a time, in delicious solitude, and if you're going to read it, I encourage you to do the same. Don't listen to it, find some quiet time to yourself and come at it with an undistracted mind. I suspect you'll be glad you did and find the poem as beautiful and meaningful as I did, too.
A personal "Thank You" to Richard Blanco for sharing a snapshot into his own soul and making my day, and my soul, a little brighter and gentler today.
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.