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Our Gay Poet Laureate Wrote a Beautiful Work About Pulse

Watch Richard Blanco read One Pulse - One Poem and tell the story behind the poem.

 

ONE PULSE—ONE POEM

Here, sit at my kitchen table, we need to write this
together. Take a sip of café con leche, breathe in
the steam and our courage to face this page, bare
as our pain. Curl your fingers around mine, curled
around my pen, hold it like a talisman in our hands
shaking, eyes swollen. But let’s not start with tears,
or the flashing lights, the sirens, nor the faint voice
over the cell phone when you heard “I love you . . .”
for the very last time. No, let’s ease our way into this,
let our first lines praise the plenitude of morning,
the sun exhaling light into the clouds. Let’s imagine
songbirds flocked at my window, hear them chirping
a blessing in Spanish: bendición-bendición-bendición

Begin the next stanza with a constant wind trembling
every palm tree, yet steadying our minds just enough
to write out: bullets, bodies, death—the vocabulary
of violence raging in our minds, but still mute, choked
in our throats. Leave some white space for a moment
of silence, then fill it with lines repeating the rhythms
pulsing through Pulse that night—salsa, deep house,
electro, merengue, and techno heartbeats mixed with
gunshots. Stop the echoes of that merciless music
with a tender simile to honor the blood of our blood,
without writing blood. Use warm words to describe
the cold bodies of our husbands, lovers, and wives,
our sisters, brothers, and friends. Draw a metaphor
so we can picture the choir of their invisible spirits
rising with the smoke toward disco lights, imagine
ourselves dancing with them until the very end.

Write one more stanza—now. Set the page ablaze
with the anger in the hollow ache of our bones—
anger for the new hate, same as the old kind of hate
for the wrong skin color, for the accent in a voice,
for the love of those we’re not supposed to love.
Anger for the voice of politics armed with lies, fear
that holds democracy at gunpoint. But let’s not
end here. Turn the poem, find details for the love
of the lives lost, still alive in photos—spread them
on the table, give us their wish-filled eyes glowing
over birthday candles, their unfinished sandcastles,
their training-wheels, Mickey Mouse ears, tiaras.
Show their blemished yearbook faces, silver-teeth
smiles and stiff prom poses, their tasseled caps
and gowns, their first true loves. And then share
their very last selfies. Let’s place each memory
like a star, the light of their past reaching us now,
and always, reminding us to keep writing until
we never need to write a poem like this again.

Excerpted from How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco, (Beacon Press, 2019). Reprinted with permission by Beacon Press.

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