As the Fourth of July weekend draws to a close, today’s poem, by Richard Blanco, invites us to explore the word “country.” In “Using Country in a Sentence,” Blanco offers a liberatingly expansive, boundary-dissolving meditation on how much more than “nation” the word might mean.

Blanco is the fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history – the youngest and first Latino, immigrant and gay person to serve in such a role. His latest book of poems, “How to Love a Country” (Beacon Press, 2019), both interrogates the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still unkept promise of its ideals. He lives with his partner in Bethel.

 

Using Country in a Sentence

By Richard Blanco

 

My chair is country to my desk. The empty page

is country to my life-long question of country

turning like a grain of sand irritating my mind, still

hoping for some pearly answer. My question

is country to my imagination, reimagining country,

not as our stoic eagle, but as wind, the country

its feathers and bones must muster to soar, eye

its kill of mice. The wind’s country as the clouds

it chisels into hieroglyphs to write its voice across

blank skies. A mountain as country to the clouds

that crown and hail its peak, then drift, betray it

for some other majesty. No matter how tall

mountains may rise, they’re bound to the country

that raises them and grinds them back into

earth, a borderless country to its rooted armies

of trees standing as sentinel, their branches

country to every leaf, each one a tiny country

to every drop of rain it holds like a breath

for a moment, then must let go. Rain’s country,

the sea from which it’s exiled into the sky

as vapor. The sky an infinite, universal country,

its citizens the tumultuous stars turning

like a kaleidoscope above my rooftop and me

tonight. My glass as country to the wine I sip,

my lips country to my thoughts on the half moon

—a country of light against shadow, like ink

against paper, my hand as country to my fingers,

to my words asking if my home is the only

country I need to have, or if my country is the only

home I have to need. And I write: country

end it with a question mark. Lay my pen to rest.

 

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “Using Country in a Sentence,” from “How to Love a Country: Poems by Richard Blanco,” copyright © 2019 by Richard Blanco. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.