Part 1—What one poet said: When Democratic presidents get sworn in, they normally throw in a poem.
In 1961, Robert Frost was the first such poet, at one of the coldest inaugurals ever. Last Monday, it was Richard Blanco, bringing a blast of warm air from Miami—and a vision of the nation that doesn’t quite seem to be so.
Somewhat oddly, Blanco’s poem seemed to have been written-to-order for this particular president in this particular year. In his address, Obama spoke of our need for collective action. As Blanco began, he began to picture a strongly unified national people—a nation which doesn’t exist.
On Saturday, several letters to the Washington Post complained about the Post’s failure to review Blanco’s poem. One letter included the poem’s full text. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-missing-inauguration-poem/2013/01/25/3586b7a6-64ca-11e2-889b-f23c246aa446_story.html
Blanco began like this:
One TodayWithout any doubt, that was “one sun” which rose on the eastern shore, then charged across the Great Plains. But as he continued, Blanco kept describing a great unitary American people—a people which doesn’t exist:
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...
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalkAndrew Sullivan noted the echo of Whitman, who famously heard American singing. But Sullivan failed to state the obvious—when Blanco pictures our nation in the manner which follows, he is picturing an American nation which doesn’t exactly exist:
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...
Hear: the doors we openIt’s true—there’s only one sky, and in that sense, that one sky is “our sky.” It’s true that the one ground is “our ground." In the literal sense, we are “one country.”
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.
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.
It’s certainly true, and it's a good thing, that we hold doors for each other all day. It’s true that a new constellation of hope is waiting for us to create it—together.
But the America which really exists produces a whole different set of sounds, as compared to the various sounds Blanco describes in one part of his poem. Every day, as part of “our day,” our various tribes insult and condemn one another, often in highly ridiculous ways. This keeps our various tribes very much apart—not together.
We were struck by the oddness of Obama’s address, in which he kept asserting that “we the people” hold various beliefs, even though large portions of we the people plainly don’t hold those beliefs. We were struck by the way the Blanco poem seemed designed to echo Obama’s address.
But we were hugely struck by the way the Blanco poem seemed to picture a sprawling unified nation—a nation which so plainly doesn’t exist at this juncture. As everyone knows, America is singing a great many highly discordant tunes at this particular time.
Why are we the people so polarized at this juncture? We’ll pursue that question all week. We'll start with some of the ways pseudo-conservative leaders have spread disinformation through the land—with the express permission of other tribal leaders.
A great deal of our polarization has come from Rush and Sean, and from those who enable their conduxct. But before the week is done, we will return to some of the ways our own tribe has been spreading the discord around.
It’s easy to hear the other guy singing off-key. It can be harder to hear the bad notes when they're produced by your own.
Say what you will about Blanco’s poem, it isn’t exactly a poem about the current state of the nation. How have we gotten so Balkanized?
Tomorrow, the latest from Sean.
Tomorrow: Garbage enabled
Frost and unification: Reciting a poem from memory, Frost described the process by which we mythically became one American people:
The Gift Outright“Until we found out that it was ourselves/We were withholding...”
The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender...
The tribes are withholding themselves today! We’ll examine the process all week.