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Laurie Lamon, '78, Ph.D.
Professor of English
"Collecting the Water"
Inauguration Poem for Whitworth President Beck A. Taylor
I knew the children next door were safe;
I could see the stick-on butterflies on the bedroom window,
stars on the ceiling. At dusk, watering the tomatoes,
I heard bathwater running and the luster-
scale of a voice: one two three four one two three--
I'm going to find you.
Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty.
24,000 die every day.
Millions of women spend hours daily searching for water.
The highest average water use is in the United States,
2400 cups every day.
On the sidewalk, a man was holding a sign.
He wanted me to vote: consider some more than others.
Love some more than others.
It was a Tuesday, people were getting off the bus,
there was a curb, a rush hour, birds overhead so I looked up,
heard the shush shush of wings. Christ,
what do I need to know?
Brother, sister, wing beat, heart beat.
What do the Gospels tell us of borders, checkpoints, walls
the color of smoke?
What do the Gospels tell us of the body, each of the twelve
breaths per minute we are given for a lifetime?
And what of the soul, that pond, small firmament, carried in each cell?
What house key, change of clothes, what food, what cup of water
did Jesus save from one day for the next day?
In 2010 every other child is a dance, a piano lesson, a choir,
a schoolyard, a pageant of nimbus and halo.
Every other child is an urgency, an agitation, an international plan
for peace, a latitude and longitude to learn, to learn.
Because we are here, what is our work?
Because we are here, what do we need to know?
A poem is not a policy. A microscope is not an agency.
Children you will hold in your arms are not yet born. You will learn
their language; you will pray in their language; you will use
what you have—
word, fact, scroll, translation, integer, paintbrush,
prayer, memorial, the imagination's perfect imperfection.
Brother, sister, wing beat, heartbeat.
The kingfisher hovers above an island of water;
the field sparrow alights and bends a grass stalk to the ground
and removes the seed.
I coil the hose in the dark.
In porch light I bend and take off my shoes, and enter this house.