One year ago today, we saw yet another tragic chapter in our country’s waking nightmare of gun violence. Seventeen students and staff members were killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. To honor their memory, inaugural poet Richard Blanco wrote “Seventeen Funerals.”
Seventeen suns rising in seventeen bedroom windows. Thirty-four
eyes blooming open with the light of one more morning. Seven-
teen reflections in the bathroom mirror. Seventeen backpacks or
briefcases stuffed with textbooks or lesson plans. Seventeen good
mornings at kitchen breakfasts and seventeen goodbyes at front
doors. Seventeen drives through palm-lined streets and miles of
crammed highways to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at
5901 Pine Island Road. The first bell ringing in one last school day
on February fourteenth, 2018. Seventeen echoes of footsteps down
hallways for five class periods: algebra, poetry, biology, art, history.
Seventeen hands writing on whiteboards or taking notes at their
desks until the first gunshot at 2:21pm. One AR-15 rifle in the hands
of a nineteen year old mind turning hate for himself into hate for
others, into one hundred fifty bullets fired in six minutes through
building number twelve. Seventeen dead carried down hallways
they walked, past cases of trophies they won, flyers for clubs they
belonged to, lockers they won’t open again. Seventeen Valentine’s
Day dates broken and cards unopened. Seventeen bodies to iden-
tify, dozens of photo albums to page through and remember their
lives. Seventeen caskets and burial garments to choose for them.
Seventeen funerals to attend in twelve days. Seventeen graves dug
and headstones placed—all marked with the same date of death.
Seventeen names: Alyssa. Helena. Scott. Martin—seventeen ab-
sentees forever—Nicholas. Aaron. Jamie. Luke—seventeen closets
to clear out—Christopher. Cara. Gina. Joaquin—seventeen empty
beds—Alaina. Meadow. Alex. Carmen. Peter—seventeen reasons
to rebel with the hope these will be the last seventeen to be taken
by one of three-hundred-ninety-three-million guns in America.
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.