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One Pulse—One Poem

By Richard Blanco

Memorials left at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida
Memorials left at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Photo credit: WalterPro

Two years ago, the mass shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, took the lives of forty-nine people and left fifty-three others wounded. Pulse was hosting a “Latin Night,” and most of the victims were Latinx. In response to the tragedy, 2013 inaugural poet Richard Blanco wrote “One Pulse—One Poem.” His poem was collected in the poetry anthology Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, a moving testament to the urgent need for gun control. Today, we share with you the full text of his tribute to Orlando.


To honor the lives and memory of the victims
of the Pulse tragedy, and to help us all heal.


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 sand castles,
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.


Look for “One Pulse—One Poem” in Blanco’s upcoming poetry collection How to Love a Country in March 2019!


About the Author 

Selected by President Obama to be the fifth inaugural poet in history, Richard Blanco joined the ranks of such luminary poets as Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Miller Williams, and Elizabeth Alexander. Standing as the youngest, first Latino, first immigrant, and first openly gay person to serve in such a role, he read his inaugural poem, “One Today,” as an honorary participant in the official ceremony on January 21, 2013. Blanco was made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, and imported to the United States, meaning that his mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid, where he was born. Only forty-five days later the family emigrated once more and settled in Miami, where Blanco was raised and educated. The negotiation of cultural identity and universal themes of place and belonging characterize his three collections of poetry, which include City of a Hundred Fires (awarded the Agnes Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press), Directions to the Beach of the Dead (recipient of the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center), and Looking for The Gulf Motel (winner of the Patterson Poetry Prize, a Maine Literary Poetry Award, and the Thom Gunn Award). His poems have also appeared in the Best American Poetry, and Great American Prose Poems series, and he has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Fresh Air, as well as major US and international media, including CNN, Telemundo, AC360, the BBC, Univision, and PBS. Blanco is a fellow of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, recipient of two Florida Artist Fellowships, and a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. A builder of cities as well as poems, he is also a professional civil engineer currently living in Bethel, Maine. Follow him on Twitter at @rblancopoet and visit his website.