Commencement Speaker Dec. 2020
I’m honored to be delivering the Commencement speech at a university’s December 2020 graduation. However, during COVID-19 the ceremony will be virtual.
So much is being done virtually now, of course.
The challenges are there but we all do what we can.
I’ll publish the remarks here after the graduation date. My best wishes to the graduates.
For now, I’ll repost a poem. It was written and delivered on the occasion of a university president’s inauguration ceremony –a woman and an African-American. Then, too, it was my honor to be part of one of the many inroads we make together as POC and women.
“These Times,” was previously published in Fifth Wednesday lit journal and will appear in my forthcoming collection of poems, MY BOOK OF THE DEAD (Fall, 2021).
In these times, you and I share,
amidst the air you and I breathe,
inspiration we take from day to day thriving,
opposition we meet,
the sacred conch shell calls us,
drums beat, prayers sent up,
aromatic smoke of the pipe are our pledge to the gods.
An all-night fire vigil burns
where we may consume the small cactus messenger
of the Huichol and of the Pueblo people of New Mexico,
red seeds of the Tlaxcalteca,
mushrooms of María Sabina,
tes de mi abuela
from herbs grown in coffee cans on a Chicago back porch,
tears of my mother on an assembly line in Lincolnwood, Illinois,
aid us in calling upon memory,
in these times.
In other days,
when memory was as unshakeable as the African continent,
and long as Quetzalcoátl’s tail in the underworld,
whipping against demons, drawing blood,
potent as Coatlicue’s two serpent face,
and necklace of hearts and hands
(to remind us of our much-required sacrifices
for the sake of the whole.
we did what we could to take memory
like a belt chain around the waist to pull off,
to beat an enemy.
But now, in these times of chaos and unprecedented greed,
when disrupted elements are disregarded,
earth lashes back like the trickster Tezcatlipoca
without forgiveness if we won’t turn around, start again,
say aloud: This was a mistake,
we have done the earth wrong and
we will make our planet a holy place, again.
with my two hands,
palpitating heart; we can, and we will
turn it around, if only we choose.
In these times, all is not lost, nothing forever gone,
tho’ you may rightly think them a disgrace.
Surely hope has not abandoned our souls,
even chance may be on our side.
There are women and men, after all,
young and not so young anymore,
tired but tenacious,
mothers and fathers, teachers and those who heal and do not
know that they are healers,
and those who are learning
for the sole purpose of returning what they know.
Also, amongst us, are many who flounder and fall;
they will be helped up by we who stumble forward.
All of these and others must remember.
We will not be eradicated, degraded and made irrelevant,
not for a decade or even a day. Not for six thousand years
have we been here, but, millions.
Look at me. I am alive and stand before you,
unashamed, despite endless provocations
railed against an aging woman.
My breasts, withered from once giving suckle,
and as of late, the hideousness of cancer,
hair gone grey,
and with a womb like a picked pomegranate
left to dry in the sun; so, my worth is gone,
My value in the workplace, also dwindled,
as, too, the indispensable role of mother.
As grandmother I am not an asset in these times,
but held against all that is new and fresh.
Nevertheless, I stand before you;
dignity is my scepter. I did not make the mess
we accept in this house.
When the party is done,
the last captive hung — fairly or unjustly,
Children saved and others lost,
The last of men’s wars declared,
trade deals busted and others hardly begun,
tyrants toppled, presidents deposed,
police restrained or given full reignupon the public,
and we don’t know where to run,
on a day the sun rose and fell,
and the moon took its seat in the sky,
I will have remained
who stayed behind to clean up.