Monday, January 21, 2013

Four Years, Two Inaugurations, and Richard Blanco’s “One Today”

“The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains / mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it…”

-- Richard Blanco, January 21, 2013

As I tuned in the presidential inauguration today, I was most looking forward to the poem. 
At Othello Station, Southeast Seattle, 2012

It is the only part of today’s event about which I could feel unequivocally optimistic. I’m not a fan of winner-takes-all voting and I realize that President Obama never promised to be anything but a centrist (those who felt disappointed by his first term perhaps weren’t truly listening to him during his campaign).

But I was thrilled to hear that Richard Blanco would be the inaugural poet. Richard and I are both members of the Macondo Writers’  Workshop, have many mutual friends, and are the same age. Hearing that he had been chosen as the inaugural poet felt like a sweet success for several interwoven movements for social justice, movements that have defined my generation. And the simple brush with fame amazed me: I knew (ever so slightly) someone who was now a member of a very small club that included Robert Frost and Maya Angelou.

President Obama's speech was an excellent warm-up act for the inaugural poem. For the first time in my life, I actually agreed with more than a few words of an inaugural speech. I felt the hard work of so many, who have struggled for so long, acknowledged in the President’s words:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Our journey will not be anywhere near complete then, but we will be a bit farther down the path.

I held my breath as Richard Blanco took his place behind the podium. He opened and closed his mouth twice before he began speaking. I imagined all that might tumble from his mouth: a scream, a sob, a shout of victory. A second of silence and then his poem: a gift of collective images and private moments, a mirror held up to reflect many of us, lines of simple elegance:

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

Fir forest, Whiteley Center, San Juan Island,
January 2009
Four years ago, I sat in a forest cottage at an island writers’ residency, watched President Obama’s first inauguration on my laptop, and traded FaceBook notes with high school classmates I’d not seen in two decades and would likely never see again. Most of them, like me, had not voted for Obama. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for a candidate who supported two unconscionable wars, rather than universal health care and marriage rights. I’d gone Green while my long-ago classmates had gone to the elephants. But on that day, for a few minutes, we all felt proud of our country.

Rock pineland forest, Everglades National Park,
January 2013
Today, I sat at a picnic table in a pineland forest of the Everglades, watching the inauguration on my phone. We are closer to some of us having access to health care. We are closer to equal love under the eyes of the law. Civilians are still dying from the wars we wage. I yearn for Maya Angelou’s riverside.

I can see Richard Blanco, and so many others, yearning for the riverside. I hear our collective breath, as expressed by our Inaugural Poet:

We will keep dreaming, imagining, questioning, solving.

No comments:

Post a Comment