Category Archives: Favorites of Local Leaders

Poems solicited from Santa Clara County’s public figures.

Joshua Russell: A favorite poem

My Hobby
Shel Silverstein

Life is all about enjoying the little things. This poem to me is all about finding joy and creating your own. It also speaks to the child in me, which I tap into as frequently as I possibly can.

Joshua Russell
Director of Communications & Emerging Initiatives
1stACT Silicon Valley

My Hobby

When you spit from the twenty-sixth floor
And if floats on the breeze to the ground
Does it fall upon hats
Or on white persian cats
Or on heads, with a pitty-pat sound?

Oh, I used to think life was a bore
But I don’t feel that way any more
As count up the hits,
As I smile as I sit,
As I spit from the twenty-sixth floor.

Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends

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Ruth Kifer: A favorite poem

Robert Penn Warren

This poem by Robert Penn Warren speaks volumes to me with the opening lines. “The vision will come—the Truth be revealed—but not even in its vaguest nature you know—ah truth.” The poet speaks of eternal concepts of life—vision, truth, grace, virtue, and even death. Yet, he describes human understanding through existential images such as beds too wide, illicit meetings, crummy cafés, hospital rooms, surgical cuts, and blurred windows.

Ruth E. Kifer
University Library Dean
San Jose State University 


The vision will come—the Truth be revealed—but
Not even its vaguest nature you know—ah, truth

About what? But deep in the sibilant dark
That conviction irregularly

Gleams like fox-fire in sump-wood where,
In distance, lynx-scream or direful owl-stammer

Freezes the blood in a metaphysical shudder—which
Might be the first, feather-fine brush of Grace. Such

An event may come with night rain on roof, season changing
And bed too wide; or say, when the past is de-fogged

And old foot tracks of folly show fleetingly clear before
Rationalization again descends, as from seaward.

Or when the shadow of pastness teasingly
Lifts and you recollect having caught—when, when?—

A glint of the nature of virtue like
The electrically exposed white of a flicker’s

Rump feathers at the moment it flashes for the black thicket.
Or when, even, in a section of the city

Where no acquaintance would ever pass,
You watch snowflakes slash automobile lights

As you move toward the first
Illicit meeting, naturally at a crummy

Café. Your pace slows. You see her
Slip from the cab, dash for the door, dark fur coat

Collar up, head down. Inside,
As you order two highballs,

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Steve Tate: A favorite poem

At the Zoo
A.A. Milne

One of my favorites is “At the Zoo” by A.A. Milne. Everything in it brings out memories of childhood and innocence, times when life was just plain fun and you were learning new things. And it avoids the silliness of Dr. Seuss while still being silly!

Steve Tate
Mayor, City of Morgan Hill

At the Zoo

There are lions and roaring tigers,
and enormous camels and things,
There are biffalo-buffalo-bisons,
and a great big bear with wings.
There’s a sort of a tiny potamus,
and a tiny nosserus too—
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

There are badgers and bidgers and bodgers,
and a Super-in-tendent’s House,
There are masses of goats, and a Polar,
and different kinds of mouse,
And I think there’s a sort of a something
which is called a wallaboo—
But I gave buns to the elephant
when I went down to the Zoo!

If you try to talk to the bison,
he never quite understands;
You can’t shake hands with a mingo—
he doesn’t like shaking hands.
And lions and roaring tigers
hate saying, “How do you do?” —
But I give buns to the elephant
when I go down to the Zoo!

A.A. Milne (1882-1956)

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Tamara Alvarado: A favorite poem

For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly
Yosimar Reyes

This poem reminds me of the five years I spent at MACLA as Executive Director. It was my joy and privilege to work everyday to bring the very best in contemporary Latino art to the community along with amazing youth programs such as the South Bay Slam Poetry League. The League produced excellent poets such as Yosimar Reyes. The strength and power of this poem inspires me to continue to work in the arts to create a better day for future generations.

Tamara Alvarado
Arts administrator, San Jose

For Colored Boys Who Speak Softly

For colored boys who speak softly,
I would build a stage on top of the world
Give them a microphone and let them free flow
Because they too have something to say
And this is more than rainbows coloring our face

This is broken spirits speaking for a better day
So in the tenderness of our words we carry blades
To cut ourselves free from gender roles
Build a life free from social norms
Redefine humanity and sexuality through our own terms…

 For colored boys who speak softly
I would sacrifice my tongue
Make an offering to the Gods
Pray to them to wash my mouth clean
‘Cause boys like us
Should never taste cum
And men should never lie with men
Because this is a crime punishable by death
And it is in this very same dark silence that many of us rest
Left bruised and dead

For those who speak softly
I would crucify myself like Christ
Let my blood purify and sanctify these words
Create a doctrine and go knocking door to door
Letting the people know
That the messiahs are here
That we are all messengers
Although, we embody the word queer

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Clark Kepler: A favorite poem(for Mother’s Day!)

The Lanyard
Billy Collins

It’s May and so we all celebrate and honor our mothers for at least one day of the year. So a favorite Billy Collins poem, “The Lanyard,”  seems an appropriate selection. I love that his use of humor and irony keeps the message of love from lapsing into a cliché. No matter how heartfelt our intentions, our gestures of gratitude to our mothers are inadequate by comparison to their gift to us.

Clark Kepler
Owner, Kepler’s Books
(Note from PL: A privately owned bookstore….GO!)

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Billy Collins

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Sid Espinosa: A favorite poem

Borderlands/La Frontera
Gloria Anzaldúa

Many residents of the Bay Area stand with their feet in two cultures.  They are immigrants or the children of immigrants.  I fall into this latter camp.  For some of us, it is hard to express our cultural duality – especially, to people who have not lived through constant questioning about their ethnic identity from both their former countrymen and their new neighbors.  This causes many to feel lost and ungrounded.  Gloria Anzaldúa was an advocate, a passionate writer and someone who, through poetry, brought to life this fence that so many straddle.  May it will help others embrace their crossroads.

Sid Espinosa
Mayor, City of Palo Alto

Borderlands/La Frontera

To live in the borderlands means you

are neither hispana india negra española
ni gabacha
, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing

that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
that mexicanas call you rajetas,
that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives en la frontera

people walk through you, wind steals your voice,
you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat
forerunner of a new race,
half and half–both woman and man, neither–
a new gender;

To live in the Borderlands means to

put chile in the borscht
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border check points;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to

resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands

you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have shattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means

the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
pound you pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;

To survive in the Borderlands

you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.

Gloria Anzaldúa
, from Borderlands/La Frontera

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Jef Graham: A favorite poem

Wee Hughie
Elizabeth Shane

“Wee Hughie” is a very moving short poem about a Mother losing her last child to his first day at school. I think any parent but particularly mothers find it very reminiscent of that day. I’m originally British and my family has English, Scottish & Irish roots, so evocative poems like this always take one back to older, simpler times.

Jef Graham,CEO
RGB Networks, Sunnyvale
Foxhound Master, Los Altos Hounds

Wee Hughie

He’s gone to school, wee Hughie,
An’ him not four,
Sure I saw the fright was in him
When he left the door.

But he took a hand o’ Denny,
An’ a hand o’ Dan,
Wi’ Joe’s owld coat upon him –
Och the poor wee man!

He cut the quarest figure,
More stout not thin:
An’ trotting right and steady
Wi’ his toes turned in.

I watched him to the corner
O’ the big turf stack,
An’ the more his feet went forrit,
Still his head turned back.

I followed to the turnin’
When they passed it by,
God help him he was cryin’,
An’, maybe, so was I.

Elizabeth Shane

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