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.
“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
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
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.