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Home Schooling / Poetry

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.


                                                              –    Billy Collins

                (from his ‘Introduction to Poetry‘)
My brother Dan and his wife Alexandra raised three daughters … in such a way – that (now that the kids are grown and have their own families) these ‘kids’  live at the Spyker farm … by choice.
Personally, I regard this as No Small Achievement.
(Actually, the oldest daughter does NOT live at the farm.  She lives in San Francisco, where she is a [paid] member of the Choir of the Symphony Orchestra … and has other work which she would have to give up if she were to live at the farm.  She visits when she can.)
I do too.
~~~~~~~~~~~     [Spyker farm letter / assignments       used here ~ with permission]

As it’s taking me too long to get all my home-schooling ideas organized, I thought I should change my approach and send you my suggestions in installments.

This first one is a proposal – that everybody at the farm learn a poem … and share it at a Family Gathering.  (Of course, this may be done all at one time, or more spread-out; and it could be done at an actual physical gathering, or electronically, by shared video recordings or live video chat.)

When I was in the hospital (in Bend) three weeks ago, I roughed out a list of suggested poems, matched to the people at the farm.

It is, of course, of some importance that people actually WANT to do this … and wanting to will certainly include liking the poem you’re learning and intend to share with the Family.

In any case – here are your assignments (if you should decide to accept them).  I have tried to offer options, in an attempt to find each person an agreeable poem.  I am, of course, open to your criticisms and suggestions.

When Dan & I were little, our mom (Alice) would sometimes (fairly often, I would say) tell us “The Bear Story” (by James Whitcomb Riley) which she had learned.  This was a treat for us; and it would (of course) be difficult to say how her doing this enriched our lives, but there is no doubt that it DID.  When I was more grown up, I would sometimes SEE – how she liked to hold a young child … rock them and sing to them.  And I know that Dan (& Jack) and I received this same blessing. It is (I would say) – something that she did Very Well.

[I’ll include the ‘Bear Story’, though I do not intend to assign it … at least, not now.].

I will also mention – (and this pertains to Zoey & Ezry’s assignment in particular, but it’s also pertinent to each person’s assignment)  – that before the film “Good Will Hunting” was produced, both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck learned both their parts, their lines … such that both of them were ready to step into and play either of those roles.

And – I think this brings me to a quote by William Cory –

You go to a great school not for knowledge so much as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual posture, for the art of entering quickly into other person’s thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of working out what is possible within a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness.  Above all, you go to a great school for self-knowledge.

So (just so we’re clear) – WHY would we be willing to settle for Education which is mediocre, or even “Good” …  if we could provide Education that is Great?

Sometime you should (all … grown-ups first)  watch the movie – “Captain Fantastic” (2016), in which Viggo Mortensen plays a dad who works hard to give his (6) kids a rigorous physical and intellectual (home-schooled) education.

It is my understanding that (once a child WANTS to learn) – he or she can learn an entire year’s worth of knowledge … in about six weeks.  (This has to do with the variable which is sometimes referred to as ‘engagement’.)

I invite you (all) to have a look at the video (which, by the way, your neighbor, Leonard Johnson recorded for me, in June of 2013, when I was myself living at the farm).  It contains several poems, including Benet’s “The Mountain Whippoorwill”. [See attachments for link/use info]




~ ~ ~


Dan:  Davy Crockett’s ‘Love Cure’  (or) “The Family Is All There Is” (or)  “Red Hanrahan’s Song about Ireland”  (or) “Embroidery” by Denise Levertov (or)  “Meaning of the Shovel”




Thar war a feller in Washington that put the thunder and litening into glass bottles, and when a feller had the roomatiz, or the Saint Vitals dance, he would put the axletressity into his corpse jist like pouring whiskey into a powder horn, and it cured him as clean as a barked tree. So I seed how ’twas done and intarmined whenever ennything aled me to try it, only I didn’t keer about the bottles, for I thort I could jist as well take the litening in the raw state as it cum from the clouds. I had been used to drink out of the Massissippy without a cup, and so I could take the litening without the bottles and whirligigs that belongs to an axletressityfying macheen.  

It fell out that sum two yeers arter I had ben to see this axletrissity, I got a leetle in love with a pesky smart gal in our cleering, and I knowed it war not rite, seeing I war a married man. So I combobbolated on the subject and at last I resisted that I would explunctificate my passions by axletrissity, so it must be done by bringing it rite on the hart and driving the love out of it. 

So I went out into the forrest one arternoon when thar war a pestiferous thunder gust, and I opened my mouth so that the axletressity might run down and hit my hart, to cure it of love. I stood so for an hour, and then I seed a thunderbolt a cummin, and I dodged my mouth rite under it, and plump it went into my throte.  

My eyes! It war as if seven buffaloes war kicking in my bowels. My hart spun round amongst my insides like a grind stone going by steem, but the litening went clean through me and tore the trowsers cleen off as it cum out. I had a sore gizzard for two weeks afterward, and my inwards war so hot that I use to eat raw vittals for a month afterward and it would be cooked befour it got farely down my throte.  

I have never felt love since. 

                                                                 –    Davy Crockett


 The Family Is All There Is

Think of those old, enduring connections

found in all flesh–the channeling

wires and threads, vacuoles, granules,

plasma and pods, purple veins, ascending

boles and coral sapwood (sugar-

and light-filled), those common ligaments,

filaments, fibers and canals.

Seminal to all kin also is the open

mouth–in heart urchin and octopus belly,

in catfish, moonfish, forest lily,

and rugosa rose, in thirsty magpie,

wailing cat cub, barker, yodeler,

yawning coati.

And there is a pervasive clasping

common to the clan–the hard nails

of lichen and ivy sucker

on the church wall, the bean tendril

and the taproot, the bolted coupling

of crane flies, the hold of the shearwater

on its morning squid, guanine

to cytosine, adenine to thymine,

fingers around fingers, the grip

of the voice on presence, the grasp

of the self on place.

Remember the same hair on pygmy

dormouse and yellow-necked caterpillar,

covering red baboon, thistle seed

and willow herb? Remember the similar

snorts of warthog, walrus, male moose

and sumo wrestler? Remember the familiar

whinny and shimmer found in river birches,

bay mares and bullfrog tadpoles,

in children playing at shoulder tag

on a summer lawn?

The family–weavers, reachers, winders

and connivers, pumpers, runners, air

and bubble riders, rock-sitters, wave-gliders,

wire-wobblers, soothers, flagellators–all

brothers, sisters, all there is.

Name something else.                   

–   Pattiann Rogers                              


Red Hanrahan’s Song about Ireland

The old brown thorn-trees break in two high over Cummen Strand,

Under a bitter black wind that blows from the left hand;

Our courage breaks like an old tree in a black wind and dies,

But we have hidden in our hearts the flame out of the eyes

Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knock- narea,

And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.

Angers that are like noisy clouds have set our hearts abeat;

But we have all bent low and low and kissed the quiet feet

Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

The yellow pool has overflowed high up on Clooth-na-Bare,

For the wet winds are blowing out of the clinging air;

Like heavy flooded waters our bodies and our blood;

But purer than a tall candle before the Holy Rood

Is Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

                                               –  William Butler Yeats

An Embroidery

Rose Red’s hair is brown as fur

and shines in firelight as she prepares

supper of honey and apples, curds and whey,

for the bear, and leaves it ready

on the hearth-stone.

Rose White’s grey eyes

look into the dark forest.

Rose Red’s cheeks are burning,

sign of her ardent, joyful

compassionate heart.

Rose White is pale,

turning away when she hears

the bear’s paw on the latch.

When he enters, there is

frost on his fur,

he draws near to the fire

giving off sparks.

Rose Red catches the scent of the forest,

of mushrooms, of rosin.

Together Rose Red and Rose White

sing to the bear;

it is a cradle song, a loom song,

a song about marriage, about

a pilgrimage to the mountains

long ago.

Raised on an elbow,

the bear stretched on the hearth

nods and hums; soon he sighs

and puts down his head.

He sleeps; the Roses

bank the fire.

Sunk in the clouds of their feather bed

they prepare to dream.

Rose Red in a cave that smells of honey

dreams she is combing the fur of her cubs

with a golden comb.

Rose White is lying awake.

Rose White shall marry the bear’s brother.

Shall he too

when the time is ripe,

step from the bear’s hide?

Is that other, her bridegroom,

here in the room?

                                     –   Denise Levertov


The Meaning of the Shovel

This was the dictator’s land

before the revolution.

Now the dictator is exiled to necropolis,

his army brooding in camps on the border,

and the congregation of the landless

stipples the earth with a thousand shacks,

every weatherbeaten carpenter

planting a fistful of nails.

Here I dig latrines. I dig because last week

I saw a funeral in the streets of Managua,

the coffin swaddled in a red and black flag,

hoisted by a procession so silent

that even their feet seemed

to leave no sound on the gravel.

He was eighteen, with the border patrol,

when a sharpshooter from the dictator’s army

took aim at the back of his head.

I dig because yesterday

I saw four walls of photographs:

the faces of volunteers

in high school uniforms

who taught campesinos to read,

bringing an alphabet

sandwiched in notebooks

to places where the mist never rises

from the trees. All dead,

by malaria or the greedy river

or the dictator’s army

swarming the illiterate villages

like a sky full of corn-plundering birds.

I dig because today, in this barrio

without plumbing, I saw a woman

wearing a yellow dress

climb into a barrel of water

to wash herself and the dress

at the same time,

her cupped hands spilling.

I dig because today I stopped digging

to drink an orange soda. In a country

with no glass, the boy kept the treasured bottle

and poured the liquid into a plastic bag

full of ice, then poked a hole with a straw.

I dig because today my shovel

struck a clay bowl centuries old,

the art of ancient fingers

moist with this same earth,

perfect but for one crack in the lip.

I dig because I have hauled garbage

and pumped gas and cut paper

and sold encyclopedias door to door.

I dig, digging until the passport

in my back pocket saturates with dirt,

because here I work for nothing

and for everything.



Alexandra:  Hilaire Belloc’s  “Tarantella” (or)  Stephens’ “The Fifteen Acres”  (or) Rilke’s “The Man Watching”


Do you remember an Inn,


Do you remember an Inn?

And the tedding and the spreading

Of the straw for a bedding,

And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,

And the wine that tasted of tar?

And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers

(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?

Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,

Do you remember an Inn?

And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers

Who hadn’t got a penny,

And who weren’t paying any,

And the hammer at the doors and the din?

And the hip! hop! hap!

Of the clap

Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl

Of the girl gone chancing,



Backing and advancing,

Snapping of the clapper to the spin

Out and in–

And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!

Do you remember an Inn,


Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;


Never more.

Only the high peaks hoar;

And Aragon a torrent at the door.

No sound

In the walls of the halls where falls

The tread

Of the feet of the dead to the ground,

No sound:

But the boom

Of the far waterfall like doom.

                                  –    Hilaire Belloc




The Fifteen Acres


I cling and swing

On a branch, or sing

Through the cool, clear hush of Morning, O!

Or fling my wing

On the air, and bring

To sleepier birds a warning, O!

That the night’s in flight,

And the sun’s in sight,

And the dew is the grass adorning, O!

And the green leaves swing

As I sing, sing, sing,

Up by the river,

Down the dell,

To the little wee nest,

Where the big tree fell,

So early in the morning, O!


I flit and twit

In the sun for a bit

When his light so bright is shining, O!

Or sit and fit

My plumes, or knit

Straw plaits for the nest’s nice lining, O!

And she with glee

Shows unto me

Underneath her wings reclining, O!

And I sing that Peg

Has an egg, egg, egg,

Up by the oat-field,

Round by the mill,

Past the meadow,

Down the hill,

So early in the morning, O! 


I stoop and swoop

On the air, or loop

Through the trees, and then go soaring, O!

To group with a troop

On the gusty poop

While the wind behind is roaring, O!

I skim and swim

By a cloud’s red rim

And up the the azure flooring, O!

And my wide wings drip

As I slip, slip, slip,

Down through the raindrops,

Back where Peg

Broods in the nest

On the little white egg,

So early in the morning, O!

                              –  James Stephens



The Man Watching 

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after

so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes

that a storm is coming,

and I hear the far-off fields say things

I can’t bear without a friend,

I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on 

across the woods and across time,

and the world looks as if it had no age:

the landscape, like a line in the psalm book, 

is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny! 

What fights with us is so great. 

If only we would let ourselves be dominated

as things do by some immense storm, 

we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things, 

and the triumph itself makes us small. 

What is extraordinary and eternal

does not want to be bent by us. 

I mean the Angel who appeared

to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:

when the wrestlers’ sinews 

grew long like metal strings, 

he felt them under his fingers 

like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel 

(who often simply declined the fight) 

went away proud and strengthened

and great from that harsh hand, 

that kneaded him as if to change his shape. 

Winning does not tempt that man. 

This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, 

by constantly greater beings.

                                           – Rainer Maria Rilke



Jess:  “Riding Out at Evening”     (or)    “The Race”

Riding Out at Evening  


At dusk, everything blurs and softens..

from here out over the long valley,

the fields and hills roll up

the first slight sheets of evening,

as, over the next hour,

heavier, darker ones will follow.

Quieted roads, predictable deer

browsing in a neighbor’s field, another’s

herd of heifers, the kitchen lights

starting in many windows.  On horseback

I take it in, neither visitor

nor intruder, but kin passing , closer

and closer to night, its cold streams

rising in the sugarbush and  hollow.

Half-aloud, I say to the horse,

or myself, or whoever, let fire not come

to this house, nor that barn,

nor lightning strike that cattle.

Let dogs not gain the gravid doe, let the lights

of the rooms convey what they seem to.

And who is to say it is useless

or foolish to ride out in the falling light

alone, wishing, or praying,

for particular good to particular beings

on one small road in a huge world?

The horse bears me along, like grace,

making me better than what I am,

and what I think or say or see

is whole in these moments, is neither

small nor broken.  For up, out of

the inscrutable earth, have come my body

and the separate body of the mare:

flawed and aching and wronged.  Who then

is better made to say be well, be glad,

or who to long that we, as one,

might course over the entire valley.

over all valleys, as a bird in a great embrace

of flight, who presses against her breast,

in grief and tenderness,

the whole weeping body of the world.

                                                          – Linda McCarriston





The Race


When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,

bought a ticket, ten minutes later

they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors

had said my father would not live through the night

and the flight was cancelled. A young man

with a dark brown moustache told me

another airline had a nonstop

leaving in seven minutes. See that 

elevator over there, well go

down to the first floor, make a right, you’ll

see a yellow bus, get off at the

second Pan Am terminal, I 

ran, I who have no sense of direction

raced exactly where he’d told me, a fish

slipping upstream deftly against

the flow of the river. I jumped off that bus with those

bags I had thrown everything into

in five minutes, and ran, the bags

wagged me from side to side as if 

to prove I was under the claims of the material,

I ran up to a man with a flower on his breast,

I who always go to the end of the line, I said

Help me. He looked at my ticket, he said

Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then

run. I lumbered up the moving stairs,

at the top I saw the corridor, 

and then I took a deep breath, I said

goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,

I used my legs and heart as if I would

gladly use them up for this,

to touch him again in this life. I ran, and the 

bags banged against me, wheeled and coursed

in skewed orbits, I have seen pictures of

women running, their belongings tied

in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my 

long legs he gave me, my strong

heart I abandoned to its own purpose,

I ran to Gate 17 and they were

just lifting the thick white

lozenge of the door to fit it into

the socket of the plane. Like the one who is not 

too rich, I turned sideways and 

slipped through the needle’s eye, and then

I walked down the aisle toward my father. The jet

was full, and people’s hair was shining, they were 

smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a

mist of gold endorphin light, 

I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,

in massive relief. We lifted up

gently from one tip of the continent

and did not stop until we set down lightly on the

other edge, I walked into his room

and watched his chest rise slowly

and sink again, all night

I watched him breathe.

                                                –    Sharon Olds



Zoey & Ezry:  Lorca’s  “Casida of the Rose”  [This is a short poem, but I want you both to learn both the (original) Spanish AND the English … then take turns with the languages.  Sometimes you may want to present the Spanish, then the English …( maybe verse by verse, or maybe line by line).  Experiment. Take your time. Work hard.]

“Casida de la rosa”

La rosa 

no buscaba la aurora: 

Casi eterna en su ramo 

buscaba otra cosa. 

La rosa 

no buscaba ni ciencia ni sombra: 

Confín de carne y sueño 

buscaba otra cosa. 

La rosa 

no buscaba la rosa: 

Inmóvil por el cielo 

¡buscaba otra cosa!

                                    –   Federico García Lorca

~ ~ ~ ~

Casida of the Rose


The rose

was not searching for the sunrise:

almost eternal on its branch,

it was searching for something else.


The rose

was not searching for darkness or science:

borderline of flesh and dream,

it was searching for something else.


The rose

was not searching for the rose.

Motionless in the sky

it was searching for something else.


                     –    Federico Garcia Lorca



Nathan:  “Hank Spink”  (or) E. E. Cummings’  “anyone lived in a pretty how town”   (or)   Rilke’s  ‘Sometimes a man stands up’

“Hank Spink”


HANK SPINK, he said — or Bob did, his brother —

‘At he hit a man once for somepin or other,

An’ after he di it — I got this from Bob —

He simply went right out an’ give up his job;

Not Hank or Bob,

But the feller ‘at got hit

Give up his job.


He said ‘at the wind, or the force of his blow,

Er somepin like that, somehow — I don’t know

Just now what it was — I got it from Bob,

But he got a good swat; not Hank or Bob,

By a long shot,

But the feller ‘at got hit

Got a good swat.


He said he’d be blamed, but the didn’t know

How he came to strike such an all-fired blow,

‘Cept he hung with his right an’ threw the whole heft

Of his weight an’ his science, an’ hit with his left;

That lost ‘im his job; not Hank or Bob,

But the feller ‘at got hit,

Lost him his job.


         –    Benjamin Franklin King




anyone lived in a pretty how town

(with up so floating many bells down)

spring summer autumn winter

he sang his didn’t he danced his did.


Women and men(both little and small)

cared for anyone not at all

they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same

sun moon stars rain


children guessed(but only a few

and down they forgot as up they grew

autumn winter spring summer)

that noone loved him more by more


when by now and tree by leaf

she laughed his joy she cried his grief

bird by snow and stir by still

anyone’s any was all to her


someones married their everyones

laughed their cryings and did their dance

(sleep wake hope and then)they

said their nevers they slept their dream


stars rain sun moon

(and only the snow can begin to explain

how children are apt to forget to remember

with up so floating many bells down)


one day anyone died i guess

(and noone stooped to kiss his face)

busy folk buried them side by side

little by little and was by was


all by all and deep by deep

and more by more they dream their sleep

noone and anyone earth by april

wish by spirit and if by yes.


Women and men(both dong and ding)

summer autumn winter spring

reaped their sowing and went their came

sun moon stars rain


                             –   e. e. cummings




Sometimes a man stands up

Sometimes a man stands up during supper

and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,

because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,

stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,

so that his children have to go far out into the world

toward that same church, which he forgot.


                                                                 –   Rainer Maria Rilke





Sheena:  “Picketing Supermarkets”  (or) “The wind one brilliant day” by Jimenez

Picketing  Supermarkets

Because all this food is grown in the store,

do not take the leaflet.

Cabbages, broccoli, and tomatoes

are raised at night in the aisles.

Milk is brewed in the rear storage areas,

beef produced in vats in the basement.

Do not take the leaflet.

Peanut butter and soft drinks

are made fresh each morning by store employees.

Our oranges and grapes

are so fine and round

that when held up to the light they cast no shadow.

Do not take the leaflet.

And should you take one,

do not believe it.

This chain of stores has no connection

with anyone growing food someplace else.

Do not believe it.

The sound here is Muzak, for your enjoyment,

it is not the sound of children crying.

There is a lady offering samples

to mark Canada Cheese Month.

There is no dark-skinned man with black hair

beside her

wanting to show you the inside of a coffin.

You would not have to look if there was.

And there are no Nicaraguan heroes

in any way connected with the bananas.

Pay no attention to these people.

The manager is a citizen.

All this food was grown in the store.

                                                  –     Tom Wayman




The wind, one brilliant day, called

to my soul with an odor of jasmine.


‘In return for the odor of my jasmine,

I’d like all the odor of your roses.’


‘I have no roses; all the flowers

in my garden are dead.’


‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals

and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’


the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:

‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’


                                      –    Antonio Machado





Mira:  “Why Mira Can’t Go Back to Her Old House”   (or) Rilke’s “I Live My Life” (or) “Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit”

“Why Mira Can’t Go Back to her Old House”

The colors of the Dark One have penetrated Mira’s body; all the other colors washed out.

Making love with the Dark One and eating little, those are my pearls and my carnelians.

Meditation beads and the forehead streak, those are my scarves and my rings.

That’s enough feminine wiles for me. My teacher taught me this.

Approve me or disapprove me: I praise the Mountain Energy night and day.

I take the path that ecstatic human beings have taken for centuries.

I don’t steal money, I don’t hit anyone. What will you charge me with?

I have felt the swaying of the elephant’s shoulders;

and now you want me to climb on a jackass?

Try to be serious.

                                                                                     –  Mirabai


I Live My Life

I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.

I may not ever complete the last one,

but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.

I have been circling for thousands of years,

and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,

a storm, or a great song?

                                      –  Rainer Maria Rilke


Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit

Don’t bother the earth spirit who lives here. She is working on a story. It is the oldest story in the world and it is delicate, changing. If she sees you watching she will invite you in for coffee, give you warm bread, and you will be obligated to stay and listen. But this is no ordinary story. You will have to endure earthquakes, lightning, the deaths of all those you love, the most blinding beauty. It’s a story so compelling you may never want to leave; this is how she traps you. See that stone finger over there? That is the only one who ever escaped.

                                                                                                                                                                                           –  Joy Harjo




Abby: “A Flower No More than Itself”  (or) “Blessing”

A Flower No More Than Itself

She was there on the mountain

still as the fig tree and the failed wheat.

Only the lizards and a few goats moved.

Everything stunned by heat and silence.

I would get to the top of the terraced starkness

with my ankles cut by thistles and all of me

drained by the effort in the fierce light.

I would put the pomegranate and the anise

and a few daisies on the great rock

where the fountain was long ago.

Too tired to praise. And found each time

tenderness and abundance in the bareness.

Went back down knowing I would sleep clean.

That She would be awake all year with sun

and dirt and rain. Pride Her life.

All nature Her wealth. Sound of owls Her pillow.

                                                –   Linda Gregg


A Blessing

For the graduates of the University of Arizona.


This morning we gather in gratitude for all aspects of sacredness:

the air, the warmth of fire, bodies of water, plants, the land,

and all animals and humankind.

We gather to honor our students who have achieved the extraordinary

accomplishment of earning doctoral or master’s degrees.

We gather to honor their parents, grandparents, children,

family members, and friends who have traveled with them

on their path to success. They have traveled far distances to be here

this morning: we honor their devotion.


May we remember that holiness exists in the ordinary elements of our lives.


We are grateful for a homeland that has always thrived

on a glorious array of people and their diverse cultures, histories,

and beliefs. We acknowledge the generosity of the Tohono O’odham

in granting this land on which we learn, teach, celebrate

accomplishments, and sometimes mourn losses.


May we always cherish our ancestors as we prepare for the days ahead.

May we remember that we exist because of their prayers and their faith.


We are blessed with distinct and melodious tongues.

Our languages are treasures of stories, songs, ceremonies, and memories.

May each of us remember to share our stories with one another,

because it is only through stories that we live full lives.


May the words we speak go forth as bright beads

of comfort, joy, humor, and inspiration.

We have faith that the graduates will inspire others

to explore and follow their interests.


Today we reflect a rainbow of creation:

Some of us came from the east, where bright crystals of creativity reside.

They are the white streaks of early morning light when all is born again.

We understand that, in Tucson, the Rincon Mountains are our inspiration

for beginning each day. The Rincons are everlasting and always present.


Those who came from the south embody the strength of the blue

mountains that encircle us. The Santa Ritas instill in us

the vigorous spirit of youthful learning.


Others came from the west; they are imbued with the quiet, yellow glow of dusk.

They help us achieve our goals. Here in the middle of the valley, the ts’aa’,

the basket of life, the Tucson Mountains teach us to value our families.


The ones from the north bring the deep, restorative powers of night’s darkness;

their presence renews us. The Santa Catalina Mountains teach us that,

though the past may be fraught with sorrow, it was strengthened

by the prayers of our forebearers.

We witnessed the recent fires the mountains suffered,

and in their recovery we see ourselves on our own journeys.

We understand that we are surrounded by mountains, dziił,

and thus that we are made of strength, dziił, nihí níhídziił.

We are strong ourselves. We are surrounded by mountains

that help us negotiate our daily lives.


May we always recognize the multitude of gifts that surround us.

May our homes, schools, and communities be filled with the wisdom

and optimism that reflect a generous spirit.


We are grateful for all blessings, seen and unseen.


May we fulfill the lives envisioned for us at our birth. May we realize

that our actions affect all people and the earth. May we live in the way

of beauty and help others in need. May we always remember that

we were created as people who believe in one another. We are grateful,

Holy Ones, for the graduates, as they will strengthen our future.


All is beautiful again.

Hózhǫ́ nááhasdłíí’.

Hózhǫ́ nááhasdłíí’.

Hózhǫ́ nááhasdłíí’.

Hózhǫ́ nááhasdłíí’.

                                                 –     Luci Tapahonso


Travis:  “Mia Carlotta”   (or) “Plato told him”  by E. E. Cummings (or)  Roethke’s “The Waking”

Mia Carlotta”


GIUSEPPE, da barber, ees greata for “mash,”   

He gotta da bigga, da blacka mustache,   

Good clo’es an’ good styla an’ playnta good cash.   

W’enevra Giuseppe ees walk on da street,   

Da peopla dey talka, “how nobby! how neat!           

How softa da handa, how smalla da feet.”   

He raisa hees hat an’ he shaka hees curls,   

An’ smila weeth teetha so shiny like pearls;   

O! many da heart of da seelly young girls   

               He gotta.    

       Yes, playnta he gotta—   

               But notta   


Giuseppe, da barber, he maka da eye,   

An’ lika da steam engine puffa an’ sigh,    

For catcha Carlotta w’en she ees go by.   

Carlotta she walka weeth nose in da air,   

An’ look through Giuseppe weeth far-away stare,   

As eef she no see dere ees som’body dere.   

Giuseppe, da barber, he gotta da cash,    

He gotta da clo’es an’ da bigga mustache,   

He gotta da seely young girls for da “mash,”   

               But notta—   

       You bat my life, notta—   


               I gotta!


                                  –   Thomas A. Daly


“Plato told”




The Waking


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   

I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   

I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   

God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   

And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   

The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   

To you and me; so take the lively air,   

And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   

What falls away is always. And is near.   

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   

I learn by going where I have to go.

                               –   Theodore Roethke


Owen:  “The Unwritten”  by W. S. Merwin (or)  “Lizzie Pitofsky” (or) Kabir’s “Then What?”  (or) Rumi’s ‘Love Hawk’ (or) Masefield’s “Cargoes”

“The Unwritten”


Inside this pencil

crouch words that have never been written

never been spoken

never been taught

they’re hiding

they’re awake in there

dark in the dark

hearing us

but they won’t come out

not for love not for time not for fire

even when the dark has worn away they’ll still be there

hiding in the air

multitudes in days to come may walk through them

breathe them

be none the wiser

what script can it be

that they won’t unroll

in what language

would I recognize it

would I be able to follow it

to make out the real names 

of everything

maybe there aren’t 


it could be that there’s only one word

and it’s all we need

it’s here in this pencil

every pencil in the world

is like this

                         – W. S. Merwin



“Lizzie Pitofsky Poem”


I can’t get enoughsky

Of Lizzie Pitofsky

I love her so much that it hurts.

I want her so terrible

I’d give her my gerbil

Plus twenty-two weeks of desserts.


I know that it’s lovesky

‘Cause Lizzie Pitofsky

Is turning me into a saint

I smell like a rose

I’ve stopped picking my nose,

And I practically never say ‘Ain’t’.


I don’t push and shovesky

‘Cause Lizzie Pitofsky

Likes boys who are gentle and kind.

I’m not throwing rocks

And I’m changing my socks

(And to tell you the truth I don’t mind)


Feed me vinegar juice,

And do other mean, bad, awful stuffsky.

But promise me this:

I won’t die without kiss-

ing my glorious Lizzie Pitofsky.


                                 –     Judith Viorst




Have you heard the music that no fingers enter into?


Far inside the house

Entangled music  –

What is the sense of leaving your house?


Suppose you scrub your ethical skin

Until it shines,

But inside, there is no music,

Then what?


Mohammed’s son pores over words,

And points out this

And that,

But if his chest is not soaked dark with love,

Then what?


The yogi comes along in his famous orange.

But if inside he is colorless, 

Then what?


                                                 –   Kabir





Someone who does not run

toward the allure of love

walks a road where nothing


lives.  But this dove here

senses the love hawk floating

above, and waits, and will not


be driven or scared to safety


                                    –   Rumi







Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.


Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

With a cargo of diamonds,

Emeralds, amythysts,

Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.


Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.


                                                          –    John Masefield





Elise:  ‘Inuit Song’   (or) Merwin’s ‘Breath’  (or) Kabir’s “Knowing Nothing”

I think over again

My small adventures

When from a shore wind

I drifted out in my kayak

And thought I was in danger.

My fears

Those small ones that seemed so big.

For all the vital things

I had to get and to reach.

And yet there is only one great thing –

The only thing:


To live to see

In huts and on journeys

The great day that dawns

And the light that fills the world.


 –   Inuit song, from the Kitlinuharmiut

                                                                            (Copper Eskimo)

[The Inuit are the descendants of what anthropologists call the Thule culture, who emerged from western Alaska around 1000 AD and spread eastwards across the Arctic, displacing the related Dorsets, the last major Paleo-Eskimo culture (in Inuktitut, the Tuniit). Inuit legends speak of the Tuniit as “giants”, although they were sometimes called “dwarfs”, people who were taller and stronger than the Inuit. Researchers believe that the Dorset culture lacked dogs, larger weapons and other technologies that gave the expanding Inuit society an advantage. By 1300, the Inuit had settled in west Greenland, and they moved into east Greenland over the following century.

Inuit (plural; the singular Inuk means “man” or “person”) is a general term for a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples inhabiting the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Russia and the United States.The Inuit language is grouped under Eskimo-Aleut languages.]



I say to my breath once again


little breath 


come from in front of me


go away behind me


row me quietly now


as far as you can 


for I am an abyss


that I am trying to cross.


                       –  W. S. Merwin





Knowing nothing shuts the iron gates;  the new love opens them.


The sound of the gates opening wakes the beautiful woman asleep.


Kabir says:            


                          Fantastic!      Don’t let a chance like this go by !



                                                                                                    –  Kabir





Zach:  [if you want to include him, and if he wishes to be included]:  Rumi’s “Names” (or) “Advice” by Bill Holm (or) Mary Oliver’s  “Wild Geese” (or) “Wide Receiver” (or) “Instead of a Preface”



You should try to hear the name the Holy One  has for things.

There is something in the phrase:  “The Holy One taught him names.”

We name everything according to the number of legs it has;

The holy one names it according to what is inside.

Moses waved his stick; he thought it was a “rod.”

But inside its name was “dragonish snake.”

We thought the name of Umar meant: “agitator against priests”;

But in eternity his name is “the one who believes.”

No one knows our name until our last breath goes out.

                                                                   –  Rumi






Someone dancing inside us

learned only a few steps:

the “Do-Your-Work” in 4/4 time,

the “What-Do-You-Expect” waltz.

He hasn’t noticed yet the woman

standing away from the lamp,

the one with black eyes

who knows the rhumba,

and strange steps in jumpy rhythms

from the mountains in Bulgaria.

If they dance together,

something unexpected will happen.

If they don’t, the next world

will be a lot like this one. 


                              – Bill Holm




Wild Geese


You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies

and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting  –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

                                                       –  Mary Oliver




Wide Receiver


In the huddle you said “Go long—get open”

and at the snap I took off along the right sideline

and then cut across left in a long arc

and I’m sure I was open at several points—

glancing back I saw you pump-fake more than once

but you must not have been satisfied with what you saw downfield

and then I got bumped off course and my hands touched the turf

but I regained my balance and dashed back to the right

I think or maybe first left and then right

and I definitely got open but the throw never came—


maybe you thought I couldn’t hang on to a ball flung so far

or maybe you actually can’t throw so far

but in any case I feel quite open now,

the defenders don’t seem too interested in me

I sense only open air all around me

though the air is getting darker and it would appear


 now we’re well into the fourth quarter

and I strongly doubt we can afford to settle for

dinky little first downs if the score is what I think it is


so come on, star boy, fling a Hail Mary

with a dream-coached combination of muscle and faith

and I will gauge the arc and I will not be stupidly frantic

and I will time my jump and—I’m just going to say

in the cool gloaming of this weirdly long game

it is not impossible that I will make the catch.


                                                         –    Mark Halliday




“Instead of a Preface”


 In the dreadful years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months standing in line in front of prisons of Leningrad. One day someone “recognized” me. Then, a woman standing behind me with blue lips, who, surely, has never heard my name in her life, came out of the trance that was common to all of us and whispered in my ear (everyone there spoke only in whispers):


Can you describe this?


And I said:


I can.


At that moment, something akin to a smile flashed by across what was once her face.


                                                                                       –   Anna Akhmatova


                                                                                            April 1, 1957



Unassigned poems




(which contains some poems)

For Talk 1 – there is a trailer …

 and 6 segments –

(1.a     through   1.f in alphabetical order).

Sometimes the “next” segment will come up by itself

But not every time.

So just keep track

And when something other than the ‘next segment’ starts to load

Just locate the next one and Click on it.

(as a ‘back-up’ … here are all  the links) :

trailer =

1.a =

1.b =

1.c =

1.d =

1.e =

1.f =      (Sailor’s Prayer)

I want to say something about choosing your poem.  I would counsel AGAINST choosing a short poem because you think it will be easy to learn. Do NOT think that a long poem can not be learned. It definitely CAN.  If you love it, you can learn it.

When I was working in the Shipfitter Shop (on the USS Dixon, AS-37, a submarine tender) I would, every now and then hear PO2 Mike Tanner recite the “First Rule of Management” – that “While authority may be delegated, responsibility may NOT.”

I suggest that what this means FOR US – is that WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHOEVER (AND WHATEVER) WE CARE ABOUT.  We just are; and there’s no getting out of it.  And (it seems to me) that one of the most vital things we can do to foster an enlightened and ‘educated’ microculture is to see to it that the best people who have ever lived … are (as it were) always given a ‘place at out table’.  That their ‘presence’ be valued … that they be loved and included in our family –

Yeats, Lorca, Rilke, Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, Mirabai, Szymborska, Akhmatova, D. H. Lawrence, E. E. Cummings, Masefield, Gibran, Blake, Dylan Thomas, James Stephens, Neruda, W. S. Merwin, Thomas Merton, Solzhenitsyn, Machado, Benet, G. K Chesterton, J. B. S. Haldane, Ursula Le Guin, Annie Dillard, Bronwen Wallace, Barbara Kingsolver, Wendell Berry …

WHOEVER YOU LOVE.  Bring them into the Family.


“So many things fail to interest us, simply because they don’t find in us enough surfaces on which to live;

and what we have to do then – is to increase the number of planes in our mind, so that a much larger number of themes can find a place in it at the same time. “

                                                          –  Jose Ortega y Gasset


You should also watch (at least) this clip from a certain French film.  And I’d certainly recommend that you see the whole movie.
Here’s the trailer –

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