Graduation day poem

Earlier in my life, I studied modern American poetry.  One of the contemporary poets I really like was Dorianne Lux, who wrote the following.  To all of Colorado’s high school graduates – congratulations.

Books

by Dorianne Laux

You’re standing on the high school steps,
the double doors swung closed behind you
for the last time, not the last time you’ll ever

be damned or praised by your peers, spoken of
in whispers, but the last time you’ll lock your locker,
zip up your gym bag, put on your out-of-style jacket,

your too-tight shoes. You’re about to be
done with it: the gum, the gossip, the worship
of a boy in the back row, histories of wheat and war,

cheat sheets, tardies, the science of water,
negative numbers and compound fractions.
You don’t know it yet but what you’ll miss

is the books, heavy and fragrant and frayed,
the pages greasy, almost transparent, thinned
at the edges by hundreds of licked thumbs.

What you’ll remember is the dumb joy
of stumbling across a passage so perfect
it drums in your head, drowns out

the teacher and the lunch bell’s ring. You’ve stolen
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from the library.
Lingering on the steps, you dig into your bag

to touch its heat: stolen goods, willfully taken,
in full knowledge of right and wrong.
You call yourself a thief. There are worse things,

you think, fingering the cover, tracing
the embossed letters like someone blind.
This is all you need as you take your first step

toward the street, joining characters whose lives
might unfold at your touch. You follow them into
the blur of the world. Into whoever you’re going to be.

from SmokeBOA Editions, 2000.

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