PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Richard Blanco, the inaugural poet who has called Maine home for almost 4 years, has returned from his whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. President Obama's choice of Blanco was noted because Blanco is the first inaugural poet to be hispanic or openly gay. At 44, He also is the youngest. He sat down to talk with NEWS CENTER's Rob Caldwell on Thursday.
You may think that standing in front of millions of Americans and reading, for the first time, the poem you wrote for this country would be a terrifying experience. Blanco, though, the scary part came before he got on stage. By the time he stood up at the podium, he couldn't wait to get it out.
"Once your foot hits the stage, the artist just comes out," Blanco said. "It's no longer you anymore. Especially in this poem I felt like this isn't about me. This is me giving myself or channeling something towards America."
Blanco said the energy up on that platform was uniquely supportive and unified. And it didn't feel like he was being watched by millions. Up there, the event felt intimate. "For those two hours, America was -- it's the ideal situation. It brings tears to your eyes. For two hours, differences are set aside, and we are one people," Blanco said.
That sense of unity was the theme of Blanco's poem. He actually was asked by the administration to write three poems within 2 to 3 weeks. In each one, he said, he wanted to capture both the experiences that bind us all together, and pieces of his unique biography. Blanco is the son of Cuban exiles who is living his American dream.
In the poem, Blanco writes:
"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. "
Blanco also says he couldn't help but do some revisions to the poem, even as the inauguration was going on. "I still edited a few lines as I was sitting on that platform," he said. "Yes, just caught up in the President's speech. When you're caught up in that energy, there's -- not a major revision, but there were a few words here or there."
And Blanco said his experience living in Bethel these past 4 years or so was inspiration for the poem, too. He and his partner have found a sense of community in Maine that he didn't have growing up in working class Miami. "That sense that everyone is necessary and in order to survive. Especially the winters in Maine, you all work together, and it's such a wonderful American ideal," Blanco said.
In fact, Blanco is engaged in his community in his spare time, sitting on the Bethel Planning Board. He also happens to be a civil engineer.
Blanco said he's hoping to capitalize on this unique opportunity to make poetry more accessible to those who find it esoteric. He says he prides himself on writing poems that people can relate to.
Here is the text of his inaugural poem:
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 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 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.