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Richard Blanco: First Latino, Gay Poet Delivers Inaugural Poem (Video)

President Obama said Richard Blanco is "fitting" to represent national diversity

Richard Blanco took the stage Monday as the first Latino and openly gay poet to recite original verse at the inauguration of a president.

Getty ImagesBlanco has written extensively about discovering his identity in the United States, and President Obama said his work celebrates "our nation's great diversity."

“Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity,” Obama said in a statement last Wednesday.

Indeed, for the second inauguration of the United States' first black president on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Blanco appears to be an apt choice.

His poem, "One Today," calls for unity in a nation rocked by the recent Sandy Hook elementary school shootings that left 26 dead and alluded to King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

"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 we won't explain / the empty desks of 20 children marked absent / today, and forever," he recited from the poem.

Story continues below the video.

The 44-year-old civil engineer-turned-poet immigrated to New York City from Madrid at two months old. Eventually, his parents moved to Miami, the nation's largest Cuban community, where he was raised.

"Although technically we lived in the United States, the Cuban community was culturally insular in Miami during the 1970s, bonded together by the trauma of exile," he wrote in an autobiographical essay published by CNN. "What's more, it seemed that practically everyone was Cuban: my teachers, my classmates, the mechanic, the bus driver."

"Against that setting, America seemed like some 'other' place. And as a child, I truly believed that the real America, just beyond my reach, was exactly like the America I saw on TV reruns like 'The Brady Bunch' and 'Leave it to Beaver,'" he added.

His sexuality, he said, was even more difficult to rectify.

He cast his attraction to men in the shadows as his homophobic grandmother referred to anything culturally "weird" as "faggotry" — "mariconería," in Spanish.

"This included my playing with toys like G.I. Joes and action figures of super heroes (Wonder Woman being my favorite)," he said. "Convinced that I was queer — she had good intuition, I Guess — she was verbally and psychologically abusive because she was also convinced she could make me a 'real' man."

Though his family forbade him from pursing a career in the arts — even calling architecture too "artsy" — the civil engineer, whose work includes Miami's City Hall, has released three collections of poetry.

"City of a Hundred Fires," his first anthology, explores his Cuban upbringing and won the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, a prestigious award reserved for full-length books of verse.

His second book, "Directions to the Beach of the Dead," also dissects his heritage. But his most recent collection, "Looking for the Gulf Motel," investigates his life as a gay man in a conservative Cuban culture.

Here is the full transcript of "One 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