Inaugural Poem: “One Today”

At Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony on January 21 of this year, for his second term as President of the United States, he asked the poet Richard Blanco to write a poem specifically for the event.  Of all the hoopla of the inaugural occasion, what I remember most is Richard Blanco’s reading of his poem.  I was stunned by the poem and its beautiful images of “ordinary” everyday life in this country.

I am offering the poem in its entirety here, motivated simply by a desire to share the poem and Blanco’s amazing ability to capture the rhythms of everyday life in my homeland. Although the poem obviously speaks strongly to the culture and commonalities of the people within the United States, it also speaks to the oneness of humanity on this planet earth—one sun, one sky, one moon, “one today.”

Read “One Today,” and think about what a poem about your own country would  include — what you would want to be distilled from your own daily life and culture and what you would choose to share with the rest of the world to reflect the essence of your homeland.  What would be the same, what would be different in the everyday-ness described about your country?  What are the images that seem specifically American?  What, in “One Today,” helps us feel a oneness with all the peoples of the world?  Does the poem help us, as occupational therapists, to understand better the side-by-side richness and simplicity of everyday occupation?

“One Today”
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-five 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 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.

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