2022: Rachel Tzvia Back, “Ode to the Graduates”

                                             In the year, those long years,

of new despairs endemic in the unsuspecting air, earth
tilting askew and we darkly refuged amid the power-

lustful spewing hatreds that rage like fires for months lush
forests devoured, trees become black ash, green

given over to greed even as we watch, disbelievingly, tanks
lumbering down main city streets, quiet buildings

bombed, charred surprise as millions flee and snow
starts falling on mothers, on children, bundled in winter

coats at all the panicking borders, stunned, they do not
cry, eyes heart-breakingly dry through this deluge new and

ancient –– Here in the year, these long years, dare I admit,
in my own dark undertow, I thought to submit, have

secretly murmured to the nighttime news you are right, there is
no hope.  But then, there you are, unsurrendering.

There you are, day after sequestered day, your diligent
selves disembodied in digital frames, all faith is in your

earnest eyes still searching me out despite despite it all
I watch your youth-filled face tilt over a book I cannot see

out of camera range there you read something that
illuminates then raise your eyes back to me,

to ask and argue, analyze and offer, to interrogate the page,
the verse, the idea, ponder the meaning, there you are

with some unspoken belief in what will come next,
a blossoming we could barely expect, sudden lavenders

and lost birdsongs returned to the hushed slopes. So, I teach
my piece, again, and learn from you, again, how devotion

can keep darkness at bay. Because of you, I can say,
devoted learning is its own dawn.  For you, I craft

this poem – in gratitude, in praise.

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