The POETIC JUSTICE BILLBOARD PROJECT is a collaboration between SITE Santa Fe, the New Mexico Museum of Art, and poets Hakim Bellamy, Levi Romero, and Edie Tsong. The collaboration was developed from a shared interest in displaying poetry in public spaces and the desire to cultivate and strengthen collaborative relationships between museums, artists, and poets. Listen to the poems
by Anne Valley-Fox
Roberts French—beloved poet, teacher, writer, outdoorsman, husband, father and grandfather—recently departed this world. A life-long hiker, Bob researched on foot and edited the Sierra Club’s Eighth Edition of Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area (2016). He served on the NMLA board from 2016-2018; we very much miss him and his gracious ways. Bob’s poems honor the earth he so loved. Here are a couple:
A Day in March
One more day of clouds
the color of steel,
hardly a color at all.
On a day like this
any creature with half
a brain would linger
in the burrow, wait
for the sun, and sleep.
But I am sixty-five;
I know how light can fade.
I will go for a walk
in the woods, down
to that meadow
by the river, and there
I will dip my hands
into flowing waters
and remember who I am
and where the river goes.
Bosque del Apache
I remember the snow geese rising,
thousands, from the water,
white against the sky.
Watch, my son the birder
said. Something will happen.
And then the eagle struck
and dove to earth clutching
its delicate prey. I watched
the snow geese scatter,
thinking how innocence dies
in the beauty of this world.
Bob and Jenny (right - Picacho Peak)
June 17, 1994
~ Cirrelda Claire Snider-Bryan
My grandma steps out every morning
in her canvas rubber-toed sneakers &
blue denim dress. Pins holding curls in her short straight gray hair
and tosses the pitch High fly ball
to center alfalfa field hits the Sandia
mountains smack in their hazy hulk
hundreds of black wet coffee grounds
spin out, land between green
blades settle to mingle with valley
clay, cottonwood/elm detritus.
My grandma’s passion for living here
in the face of the uplift - on top
of 5 mile trough, nested among shade trees,
apple orchards, parallel dirt roads running back
to ditches of cool river water - went with
her to the hospital. Saw her gall bladder
removed under harsh lights - cried when
she gave up driving and sat there mouth agape when the son his wife & 2
granddaughters loaded up each box
into the U-Haul. This passion wept silently
from apartment bedroom, staring out at replacement
butte surrounded by Colorado bedroom community.
It lived in her butterfly dreams during afternoon naps,
in her conversations with teenage granddaughters while
making apple pies, drinking MJB coffee,
smoking a cigarette after chicken fried in bacon grease.
It rebelled, refused to join the blasted senior
citizen group in the Rec Room.
It reflected in tales of stopping to look down at rushing
Clear Creek on the walk back from Safeway.
It watches 2 middle-aged granddaughters
six miles to the east and south
step out to greet each morning this mass of pink granite under the dawn.
by Joan Logghe
It is with sadness and fondness I remember Alvaro Cardona-Hine, our 2015 Gratitude Award winner. Only a year ago he came to our house so we could honor and celebrate. This year, Alvaro died at home with family nearby and Barbara McCauley at his side. I was one of many fans and friends deeply touched by this loss. I trust the intimacy in his communication style led many of us to believe we were close friends. Besides his prodigious gifts as a creative person, he was gifted in human contact. Here is an introduction I wrote about less than a year ago for the book launch of Phantom Buddha at Collected Works Bookstore. I hope this intro gives even a taste of this.
When I spent time with Alvaro, I take notes. I often write down something he says, my off the cuff Zen teacher and friend I first recall meeting Alvaro and Barbara at Natalie Goldberg's house in the 1980's. Over the years we read together at CCA in 1994 and at Collected Works Bookstore in 2010, my first with as Santa Fe's Poet Laureate.
Alvaro is a poet, painter, composer, and translator. He was born in 1926 in Costa Rica, came to the State in 1939. Since 1988 he and Barbara McCauley have owned Cardona-Hine Gallery. As part of their creative journey, they decided to abandon the conventional art gallery scene to share and sell their paintings directly to collectors. Doing so, they discovered that the creative process is not only about making a work of art, but also about its being received. There was barely a time I visited the gallery in Truchas when I didn't see some curious stranger welcomed to view the paintings with charm and dignity. He has close to twenty books and is widely anthologized and published. He has won a National Endowment, Bush Foundation Fellowship, and Minessota State Arts Board grant.
As a painter he has had a dozen one man shows and his music has been heard all over the globe. More important, he ahs a vast generosity to others, and to the art of others. Alvaro is the most gracious host. If you haven't visited the Cardona-Hine Gallery in Truchas, do so, and buy a painting, I might add.
A few years back, I discovered three things I didn’t know about Alvaro:
He read with and knew Charles Bukowski
He was an ordained Zen Sensei
He has been an editor for girlie magazines
Reading his newest book, Phantom Buddha, one learns the circumstances around these details. It's set in Los Angeles in the 50's, following on the tails of Thirteen Tangoes for Stravinsky. It connects memoir to fiction to poetry to dream. I am not a fan of reading the dreams of others, but Alvaro presents the dreams as koan, counterpoint to the character's Los Angeles life in plot. But more than that, they are told in this voice I have come to admire. "Nothing is invented, except my language."
Alvaro will begin with some haiku about the mountain town of Truchas.
I can't help thinking that if he and Barbara lived in Santa Fe, he would be even more well known, but also, there would be less paintings, writing, and music. Welcome to a life well lived, and written down.
After the nature documentary we walk down Canyon Road,
into the plaza of art galleries and high end clothing stores
where the mock orange is fragrant in the summer night
and the smooth adobe walls glow fleshlike in the dark.
It is just our second date, and we sit down on a rock,
holding hands, not looking at eachother,
and if I were a bull penguin right now I would lean over
and vomit softly into the mouth of my beloved
and if I were a peacock I’d flex my gluteal muscles to
erect and spread the quills of my cinemax tail.
If she were a female walkingstick bug she might
insert her hypodermic probiscus delicately into my neck
and inject me with a rich hormonal sedative
before attaching her egg sac to my thoracic undercarriage,
and if I were a young chimpanzee I would break off a nearby treelimb
and smash all the windows in the plaza jewelry stores.
And if she was a Brazillian leopardfrog she would wrap her impressive
tongue three times around my right thigh and
pummell me lightly against the surface of our pond
and I would know her feelings were sincere.
Instead we sit awhile in silence, until
she remarks that in the relative context of tortoises and iguanas,
human males seem to be actually rather expressive.
And I say that female crocodiles really don’t receive
enough credit for their gentleness.
Then she suggests that it is time for us to go
to get some ice cream cones and eat them.
After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
then I understood: there’s nothing
we can’t pluck the stinger from,
nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people
quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.
You can’t keep beating yourself up, Billy
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
About all those people you killed--
You just have to be the best person you can be,
one day at a time -
and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
that the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood-
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,
but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth-
whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking thorough the Springdale Mall.
If you are lucky in this life
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.
Into the big enamel tub,
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton she had become.
Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed grey cloud
between her legs.
Some nights beside her bed,
book open in my lap,
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,
amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.
And once, after her bath,
I held her dripping in the uncomfortable
air between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child to stop,
an act of cruelty
which we both understood
as the ancient, irresistable rejoicing
of power over weakness.
If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy
because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.
If I Stay in Santa Fe
If I stay in Santa Fe,
I think I will end up with a red string knotted to my wrist,
tied there by a Tibetan rimpoche,
as a means of proving that I am holy.
If I stay, I know I shall require a profession:
becoming an apprentice, in succession, for jobs
as a woodworker, a shiatsu masseuse,
a permaculture expert, a hospice volunteer.
and a Better-Dream facilitator.
If I stay in Santa Fe, the chances are good that
I will finally take the tango lessons
my first two wives wanted me to take,
and I will look fucking fantastic on the dance floor,
--my body tilted like a French accent,
my forearm displaying the tattoo I got
soon after I met wife #3, to cover up the tattoo I got with wife #2.
If I stay in Santa Fe, I will have to be on guard,
knowing that I am susceptible
to the rhetoric of transformation
in the way that certain other people are susceptible
to summer colds or lung infections,
and if I stay in Santa Fe,
I know I might be tempted
to change my name to Diego or Joaquin,
to qualify for the arts grant from the Heritage Council
--but on the other hand, why not?
But if I stay in Santa Fe, I wonder
if I will become shallow, or predatory?
Will I haunt the gallery openings on Canyon Road
in a black silk shirt and gold earring,
filling my mouth with white wine and canapés
while chatting up the divorcees,
and trying to read the aura of their stock portfolios?
Will I glance in the mirror one night in my apartment
and burst into tears because
I look like an ad for a tequila company,
with my little goatee and skinny ponytail?
and my line about living for bliss,
which was the embarrassing hypothesis
of a younger man who did not know himself
in the way I hope I will know myself
someday, if I stay in Santa Fe.
All I remember from that party
is the little black dress of the hostess
held up by nothing more
than a shoestring of raw silk
that kept slipping off her shoulder
—so the whole time she was talking to you
about real estate or vinaigrette,
you would watch it gradually
slide down her satiny arm
until the very last moment
when she shrugged it back in place again.
Oh the business of that dress
was non-specific and unspeakable,
and it troubled all of us
like the boundary of a disputed territory
or the edge of a borderline personality.
It was like a story you wanted to see
brought to a conclusion, but
it was also like a story stuck
in the middle of itself, as it kept on
almost happening, but not,
then almost happening again--
It took all night for me to understand
the dress was designed to fail like that;
the hostess was designed to keep it up,
as we were designated to chew
the small rectangles of food
they serve at such affairs, and to salivate
while the night moved us around in its mouth.
This is the way in which parties
are dreamlike, duplicitous places
where you hang in a kind of suspense
between the real and the pretended.
All I remember from that night
is that I had come for a mysterious reason,
which I waited to see revealed.
And that, by the end of the evening,
I had found my disappointment,
which I hoped no one else had seen.
Tony Hoagland's fifth and most recent book of poems, Application for Release from the Dream, was published by Graywolf Press in 2015. His next collection, Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, is scheduled for publication in 2018. His collaboration with Martin Shaw of translations from Anglo Saxon and Celtic literature, titled Rough Gods, will be published in 2018. He has published two collections of essays about poetry. He has received the James Laughlin Award, Mark Twain Award from the Poetry Foundation, the Jackson Poetry Prize, and the O.B.Hardisson Prize for teaching. He teaches at the University of Houston and elsewhere, and lives whenever he can in Santa Fe with his partner, the writer Kathleen Lee.
by Anne Valley-Fox
(In deep reverence to the Syrian refugees)
Our driver lifts his hands from the wheel to point out a group
of refugees walking along the road in the warm night.
“Did you see them?” His voice is rough and sad.
“Every night a hundred more land on our shores in Turkish rafts.
Mostly they come from Syria. They’re walking to Mytilini hoping
to cross to Athens. And then? They don’t know. Our own children
are leaving Lesvos—here there are no jobs. The EU has Greece
by the throat. What can we do? There is nothing we can do.
And still they come, every night they come.”
They walk in clusters of 20 or 30 along the road’s shoulder. Hum of their talk
as we pass. A woman turns to a man; her soft laughter
strums the dark.
July’s full metallic moon spangles their headscarves and hoodies,
the sable heads of small children carried in their arms.
How dark their joy!
Because of the bottomless sea.
Because landfall was cushioned with smooth pebbles.
Because the road rises to meet their feet.
Because they walk in the open with sons and daughters and brothers.
Because they have honey and figs in their packs to feed the children.
Because their neighbors are corpses.
Because bombs whistle as they fall.
Because all praise belongs to Allah.
Because blood darkens outside the body.
Because of Christ nailed on the cross in roadside shrines.
Because of the viper coiled in the dark of the solar plexus.
Each dawn two or three innkeepers greet the refugees with food and water.
“I’m sorry,” a woman exhales as she climbs off the raft.
“We don’t need anything,” a man answers. “—only your prayers.”
Because of the pile of life vests, plastic bottles, a child’s pink inner tube
abandoned on the shore. Because the dingy is already deflating.
Young men call out Hello (not Yassou) as we pass on the road by the sea.
They can tell by my walk, my claim on ground and air
I come from America.
Because there is no safe harbor. Because we are all on our way.
Sun melts the back of my heart as I climb the olive-studded hill to the yoga hall.
Yoga mats float melodically on the polished floor.
Racket of mating cicadas just outside the window—pushed in on a breeze,
the ribbons of my teacher’s voice come undone.
Late in the day I bob in the sea, instinctively keeping clear of the channel
where Turkish rafts, sagging with human cargo, cross the dark water.
Sun sinks low in the ancient pine winging between the sea and my balcony.
Trio of crows swoop to the field where eight goats graze.
I dream of the sea on its soft wheels rolling towards us.
Because birds puncture the dark with their bright song.
Because sky ricochets off the Aegean.
Mid-afternoon when I walk into town I pass a group of refugees sprawled
on the ground at the bus stop under an awning. Now it’s too hot
and they are too weary to smile.
Blogpost by Irish Gersh
Poem by Stella Reed
Cristin McKnight Sethi, our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide today, tells us that we can see objects as moving through space and time. We can rethink or revise objects to see them for purposes of healing ourselves and others, and so today we have begun a journey to find out the “ailments” of our fellow workshop participants, and what we can do as apothecaries to heal them with objects. All the while, or most of the time, we are using our imaginations, and we are writing.
Objects may allow us to share experiences. My story is about a blue Buddha gift I gave to a dear friend. I found it at Ruben Museum in New York, in the museum’s gift shop which could never give full summary of and justice to the floors and floors of visionary, Tibetan, all-Eastern paintings and objects, yes, objects like we are looking at today. My friend was pleased for my remembrance, but more amazed that I had chosen this blue Buddha. In the gift shop, the Buddha with the rich gold face was vying for attention with this deep rich blue one. For some reason, I grabbed the blue and ran out into the streets of New York City, giddy from all I had just seen in a few hours. Later, my friend revealed that thirty years before when she gave up heroin and all manner of drugs and alcohol, she entered into the throes of days-long pain from withdrawal and into a place of hell. Then from another dimension, a blue Buddha hovered over her, soft, big, airy, constantly restoring her, and keeping her alive. The blue Buddha, she told me, has always been associated with healing. And so, objects may follow us and will mark our years. In her case, in the moment of receiving the object gift, her memory is unleashed and comes alive.
In the workshop, we share openly our stories about our relationships with objects that show fear and awe. The forgiving and healing properties of objects have a special place in our memories. Letters found from a participant’s father to her mother reveal another side of the man she knew. It is surprising to hear our often subconscious attachment to and love of objects, not only for their beauty, but for properties that can spark our creativity, lead us to seeking a bigger meaning, or sometimes just reminding us to be kind to ourselves.
Our workshop progresses where one of us is patient, and one healer, with the roles reversed after we have discussed our diagnoses and prescriptions for health. Some prescribe drinking a number of teaspoons of juice from a lizard cup to wearing a pile of ribbons in our hair to using objects as receptacles for gems and other treasures. Promises of wondrous healing await us. We are having fun with playing, for in most cases with the objects we’ve seen, we’re not even sure what they are! The “crown of thorns” from hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago, may have been used as a cooking element in some fire pit in a far off land.
The two workshops I’ve attended, this one and Nikeesha’s “Finding the Inner Deamon” have been transformational, reflective, and most of all, joyful and fun. ~Iris Gersh
The wearing of a Brazilian Carnival crown as cure for separation caused by a deficiency
of knowledge of others' language and culture
by Stella Reed
Symptoms: Inability to stretch beyond the boundary of skin, tongue and ears
Lack of sufficient power to dream in another language
Rx: This helmet fell like a yod
from the Tower of Babel
when god was lightning
Worn while sleeping it will imbue
the seeker with dreams of old women
feeding bread to pigeons in every city
in every country in every world.
Bread becomes pain, arán, chléb,
brood, brot, duona.
Worn upon waking it will enable
the seeker to hear the voices of pigeons
in every city of every country in every world.
Cooing becomes dove becomes sparrow becomes
crow becomes hawk flying back to dove.
Translating the scent of pine, bamboo, oak,
eucalyptus, boab, willow, and mahogany
will be effortless.
The festive ribbons, held in the mouth
(taste of corn, saffron, curry, milk, sour plum)
allows the seeker to speak in dialects
previously unknown, unbinding the tongue
oiling the lips, the ears, eyes, fingers, hinges
of the closeted heart will swing open,
patience will preside, understanding
To further lessen symptoms:
feet shall be unshod
shoes shed on a Swedish mat
(woven mountains of mouths, fanged yet friendly)
and left overnight.
Upon waking, the seeker shall examine.
Have the shoes changed?
Place the shoes back on the feet.
Do they fit?
Walk a mile.
What does the seeker feel?
Is it right? Left?
Circular, ether, above, below
Circumambulate the waters
Do the shoes fit?
by Diane Castiglioni
images by RJ Ward
Reading reportage about police brutality stirs up an underbelly full of primal feelings and Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a brave man to lead a group designed to digest editorials on the subject, find the resonance in them, and make them over into poetry. He shared several articles and poems, and read poignant pieces which mastered this knack of turning social commentary into poetry, such as Poem about Police Violence by June Jordan, written in 1980 referencing Arthur Miller, an African American businessman and community leader who was killed in Brooklyn 1978 in a chokehold by the police, an eerie echo to Eric Garner killed in a similar manner 36 years hence in Staten Island. In The Falling Man (for Eric Garner), Darryl showed his own talent of creating art out of the ashes.
In a striking and radically different approach inspired by the same 2014 tragedy, Darryl read A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay, which evoked the palpable precious humanity behind the name of the brutalized, teaching us of Eric’s former profession as a horticulturist, using imagery of his big hands gently planting into earth, nurturing the things that make it easier for all of us to breathe; a not-so-subtle heartbreaking irony. Beyond the content, Darryl took us through the structure of these poems, contrasting the use of syntax and punctuation as we discussed how these details and choices were used to contribute to the meaning and how they impact us.
Emotions were high for a few of us throughout the session, given the heart-shredding stories and base culture that allows them to happen, and Darryl navigated all of them with grace and composure, protecting the tenderness, and artfully stopping commentary that tried to derail the focus. He held the space beautifully, with his infectious laughter and incisive clarity, and I admired the generosity with which he handled all the different perspectives and knowledge (or lack thereof) of the subject matter.
Using the examples of a blues song by Robert Johnson and a letter to the police by June Jordan, we spent time composing our own poems and sharing them in class. The quality of writing and expression by the other participants was inspiring; it’s amazing how much talent resides in this town and I was grateful they were drawn to this workshop.
The time went by too fast and I wished the class could have been longer. Perhaps Darryl will do a reprise. With so much rich material and his expertise, it would be a natural choice for an ongoing offering, and I encourage anyone to seize the opportunity to listen to and learn from Darryl.
Last year I posted that I had gone off the deep end, left teaching, and was swimming into unknown waters. The gods had other ideas, and by some twist of cosmic irony, I found myself back in the class, teaching Humanities (a dual-credit course offered by Los Alamos High School and UNM-LA to high-school juniors and seniors at LAHS). For the first time in over three years, I taught full-time, actually .2 more than full-time, and I was learning just a little bit faster than my students in order to keep up with the content of the course. By the end of the year, I had developed a strong literature and poetry-based philosophy curriculum. We had a great year!
Every year, the seniors vote for their "teacher-speaker" for graduation, and this year I was chosen to address the seniors at commencement. I've indulged myself on this birth-day to share the address with NMLA blog-readers:
Welcome to all of you, parents, teachers, colleagues, friends, administrators – all the people who have spent the last four years supporting, cajoling, cheering, and teaching these young folks through their high school years. Welcome graduates! Thank you for the opportunity to stand up and speak to all of you on this auspicious occasion, and look out on this little pond of green all sitting in your folding chairs on the gym floor. But the metaphor today will not be frogs in ponds, because the extension may lead to the kind of problems of identity that include princes and kissing and warts and catching bugs with your tongues, so I’ll stop with that kind of description. Though I will address the question of identity a bit later.
Before I actually begin this commencement address, I am going to take care of one item that you should have all downloaded on your syllabus from my website. Item One: As you all know, you were required to take English EoCs as part of your senior finals week. These tests came as a surprise to you, as well as to us, your teachers, so we scrambled our schedules and lesson plans, changed the syllabus – and we undertook those tests. Then, we learned that there was one more test, the reading section, that also needed to be included, so we scrambled again, and administered that section. I am here to tell you, our EoC’s are not complete. I have just been informed that there is ONE more test that you all must take before your graduation can be official, and what better time to take the Graduation EoC , than right now while we have you all here. Sal? Sal? Do you have the computers ready to distribute? …..Looks like Sal is otherwise occupied, but I have the test question with me right now! It’s a simple objective test question, but we can not commence with this commencement until this question is answered. You will answer, out loud, yes or no. Are you ready to graduate? Great! Now I will commence with my commencement speech.
At the end of this year in humanities, we put together a ceremony for each class. Thread was involved, and in one class, we stitched together swatches of material from our childhood, using embroidery floss. Students chose their thread colors and either brought the thread in or used thread I provided. Humanities students, imagine your thread, the weight of it, the color. The rest of the senior class, imagine you are holding a length of embroidery thread in your hand. Imagine the color, imagine the heft. For the purposes of this rather extended metaphor, everyone else in this room also imagine your thread. Let’s stay in this moment.
Your presence here today is a culmination of every moment and experience that has preceded your butt in that folding chair. And what you do after walking across this stage may determine the trajectory of the rest of your life. Right now, though, you are right here. Listening to me, teetering on a balance point, a bit of stasis, before you begin the next journey. Let’s be mindful.
Who are you? The caterpillar asked Alice from his perch on a mushroom, as he smoked his hookah. Who are you? Alice barely knew, because as she claimed, she was hardly herself in this strange environment of white rabbits, mad red queens, and babies that turned rather abruptly into pigs before they ran off. Our world may seem like Wonderland, yet you all have to navigate and make sense of the madness. How will you know which door to choose? Which side of the cake to nibble, or, as in the case of the Matrix – which pill to take? Unless you seek to discover who you are, and the nature of your path, your choices will be nebulous, a game of chance, constantly throwing your dice against the wall and hoping for the best.
There are no definitive answers, but the questions will guide you. The thread you hold is not an answer, just a bit of hope that you will not get lost. Live the questions and know you are not alone. Whatever path, by happenstance or choice, you find yourself on, has been travelled by many before you. Be mindful. With your thread weave your way into the tapestry that will create the world you wish to inhabit.
Remember every loss that has built the story of this graduating class, and take up the threads of your friends and classmates who would have been among you today had their stories not ended so soon. Weave their colors with yours. We all have the responsibility of memory, the work of carrying our losses as integral aspects of who we are now. As V.S. Naipul said, “In our blood and bones and brain we carry the memory of thousands of beings.” Even the heroes and heroines of myth ride inside us, so your thread becomes Ariadne’s as she makes her journey into the labyrinth to confront the monster, who in the end is simply what we fear the most. Her thread connects her to the hero, who will find her, and not just save her, but also join her as she saves herself.
Yes, I am too much the poet and philosopher to not encourage you to be the hero of your own story, to understand that you must consciously involve yourself in the process of becoming who you are. This should not be some lucky sequence of events that eventually put you in a green graduation gown, wearing that funny mortar board on your head.
What color is your thread? What is the picture you would like to create? How intricate the weave, the stitch? Gather and pull, yours is a life always in transition, and today we celebrate your leaving high school. So many threads that have contributed to the mind and spirit you carry in the body of yours. Act accordingly. Desks you sat in, classes you skipped in favor of concerts and camping, the loves you ached for and lost, the friends that must be your soul mates, and the friends who turned on you when you least expected, the races, games, debates you crushed, and those that crushed you. The songs you sang with all your heart, the lies you manufactured, complete with requisite tears, right before you walked into the classroom, the arguments that built your understanding, the equations that eventually led to epiphany, the long nights of homework, all the hours you could have been sleeping, the words of wisdom, the thesis statement you wrote when you finally realized what a thesis statement was for, the research you did that actually led to understanding, the yards of words – poems, journals, notes, annotations – in binders, on loose leaf, in files on computers, or out in the world somewhere on shelves or on line, and the yards of words you read – science, social studies, novels and non-fiction – all the warp and weave to create the story of the past four years.
You all, content in this accomplishment, rest easy right now. This is a time for reflection and hope, a congratulatory moment before you walk across this stage and into what happens next.
You may think that the rollercoaster of the sublime and ridiculous is confined to all the stories you can remember vividly from your high school experience. The world is mad. The crazy continues. In hallway conversations and during your weekend activities, the crazy of this place dominated moments of frustration and incredulity. “Can you believe the homework load in that class? That teacher is nuts, if she/he thinks…. My car was towed! Insert name of teacher or administrator – hates me. Insert name here – is crazy! How do they – the “they” that will dog you all for the rest of your lives – how do they expect me to do that?!!” Los Alamos High School reflects the same chaos and bureaucracy you will find when you leave and either become the bureaucracy or fight against it the rest of your lives. Yet, your opportunities of education, the community provided by favorite friends and classes, and the protection of adults who, no matter how you might feel sometimes, have only wished the best for you, were also part of this four-year bargain. Now, though, you must leave this safely paved path with your colorful thread in your sweaty hand, and choose among so many trails your head is going to spin.
Feel the plates shift under your feet. Mountains are rising, chasms are widening, climate is changing, even the oceans are telling a different story. Your FB page is passé. You’ve been twittering for most of your high school years, and sharing videos that have gone viral. You buy things on Ebay, sell things on Etsy, live on fast food, faster cars, and Netflix binges. You share what you want the world to see on social media, don the clothes that identify you, say the words out loud that everyone expects, because you think you know who you are. Three thousand years ago Socrates challenged his students to understand that the unexamined life is not worth living.
Your next moment is upon you. Don’t stand still, as the minor philosophers, Brian George and Mateo Cardiel, so wisely stated: “There’s so much more to life than standing around on a planet all day.” Go. Trust those who have gone before you, you can see them on the horizon gesturing you over the chasms, mountains, rivers, continents, galaxies to follow. It’s dark out there, the woods is thick, there are monsters in the middle of everything, daring you to face your fears, and accomplish your story. You’ve got your thread, gather more, weave your story. What’s next won’t be on my syllabus. Thank you!
Los Alamos High School Graduation