This past weekend, I got to take part in the ceremonies inaugurating KU’s new chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little. Here is the poem I wrote for that inauguration, which was printed in the inauguration program, and which I was thrilled to read aloud at a special dinner honoring Gray-Little.

Calm Water

“I’ve known rivers.” — Langston Hughes

Not what you would expect: the Pamlico sound widening out,

then threading into the river where she grew up,

or here, in her new home, the Kaw River curving beyond

the bend, banked by tilting cottonwoods, on its long story

down the Missouri, the Mississippi, and eventually

the Gulf of Mexico. Not what you can predict and yet

both rivers doing what rivers do: moving, lifting, surprising

the tentative pines there or the sudden sand island here,

making change, changing course, coursing through our lives.

Not what was supposed to happen for the daughter

of a woman who loved books and her children enough

to work as a custodian at their local school

but exactly what can happen when you learn

to do what you can with what you’ve been given.

Each act brave enough to, over time, wear loose

what’s supposedly set in stone, lift and carry

the small pebbles through shallows, drops and turns,

the water beneath the surface calm enough

to arch through turbulence or drought toward the next

opening, turning what’s impossible into the possible.

Right now, in the heart of this community that knows

how to navigate fire or flood, she listens deeply,

and leads with a calm water heart, generous

as these ribboning waters propelled, beyond

what’s expected, by the freedom of wind and time

and the pulse of our river dreams.

Photos: The new chancellor, the KAW river, and the Pamlico river.

2 thoughts on “

  1. Caryn, that’s a great poem. Your work just gets better and better and better—bravas! — Lee C.

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