america the beautiful again

Apr 12, 2019

Today’s poem is “America the Beautiful Again” by Richard Blanco. Richard read his poem “One Today” at President Obama’s second inauguration.  His fourth book of poetry, How to Love a Country, was published this month.

He writes: “This poem was inspired by another poem, ‘A New National Anthem,’ by Ada Limón.  In light of so much political strife and bickering, I wanted to write a poem that captured my own child-like patriotism—that time when one innocently believes in the ideals of our country, before we become polarized or completely disheartened and jaded. Not the ‘my country, right or wrong’ kind of blind patriotism, but rather a more genuine and gentler patriotism that acknowledges our country's imperfections and trespasses, while also remaining committed to working toward ‘a more perfect union.’” 

america the beautiful again 
by Richard Blanco 

How I sang O, beautiful like a psalm at church 
with my mother, her Cuban accent scaling-up  
every vowel: O, bee-yoo-tee-ful, yet in perfect  
pitch, delicate and tuned to the radiant beams  
of stained glass light. How she taught me to fix  
my eyes on the crucifix as we sang our thanks  
to our savior for this country that saved us—  
our voices hymns as passionate as the organ  
piping towards the very heavens. How I sang  
for spacious skies closer to those skies while  
perched on my father’s sun-beat shoulders,  
towering above our first Fourth of July parade.  
How the timbre through our bodies mingled,  
breathing, singing as one with the brass notes  
of the marching band playing the only song 
he ever learned in English. How I dared sing it 
at assembly with my teenage voice cracking  
for amber waves of grain that I’d never seen,  
nor the purple mountain majesties—but could 
imagine them in each verse rising from my gut,  
every exclamation of praise I belted out until  
my throat hurt: America! and again America! 
How I began to read Nietzsche and doubt god,  
yet still wished for god to shed His grace on 
thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood. 
How I still want to sing despite all the truth  
of our wars and our gunshots ringing louder  
than our school bells, our politicians smiling  
lies at the mic, the deadlock of our divided 
voices shouting over each other instead of   
singing together. How I want to sing again—  
beautiful or not, just to be harmony—from  
sea to shining sea
—with the only country 
I know enough to know how to sing for. 

Poem copyright © 2019 Richard Blanco. Reprinted from How to Love a Country, Beacon Press, 2019, by permission of the author.