On Monday, Richard Blanco became the first Latino and first gay poet to read at the inauguration, as well as the youngest. His poem “One Today” spoke to common experiences of cultural distance and interaction, heritage and hybridity. He ends with a note of unity as well as tension surrounding the country’s nebulous path toward a “new constellation”:
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.
In an interview with NPR, Blanco talked about the odd sense of fate with which he views his journey as the child of a Cuban migrant family:
My mother … was seven months pregnant with me when she left Cuba, and at that time, in 1968, since there were no diplomatic relations, everybody had to go through what they called a third country, so we ended up in Spain. Forty-five days later I was born, and a few weeks after that, we got in a plane and immigrated once more to New York City. So by the time I was about 2 or 3 months old, I had figuratively and literally been in three countries, and could probably have claimed citizenship in any one of the three at that moment. And then eventually when I was about 3 or 4 we settled down in Miami. And it’s kind of, you know, as I look back on my life, as we all do, you kind of think, ‘Is this some kind … of foreshadowing, of course, of what my work as a poet would be obsessed with?’ This whole idea of place and identity and what’s home and what’s not home, and which is in some ways such an American question that we’ve been asking since, you know, since [Walt] Whitman, trying to put that finger on America. You know, it makes for a very confusing childhood. Like, most of my family calls me el galleguito, which means the little Galician, and yet we were Cuban, and in my, you know, 5-, 6-year-old mind, I was going, ‘What the hell are they talking about?’ Not only that, I’m not from Galicia, I was born in Madrid, I’m a madrileño! So, it somehow seems like it was all fated.
Blanco probably harbors no illusions that he would be the poet to definitively “put that finger on America.” But for a moment on that day in Washington, he did point Americans toward something bigger than themselves, something we can’t quite define, but of which we’re all a part.