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Poet Laureate’s 1st Official Words Include ‘Homophobia, Racism, Sexism’—And ‘Healing’

Michael Castro
Ros Crenshaw

This Saturday, St. Louis’ first Poet Laureate Michael Castrowill publicly read his first official poem, commemorating the city’s 250th birthday.The reading will take place at a coronation ceremony from 3-5 p.m. at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd.

Here’s a sneak peek at the inaugural words from the brain and heart of a poet who’s graced St. Louis with his work for many decades. Making poetic use of the region’s rivers, Castro begins with a look at our origins, addresses our current divides and calls for a united future.


Mississippians lived here, Cahokians
built largest city north of Tenochitlan’s; traded with peoples of the Great Lakes, Rocky Mounts, Atlantic Coast, Mexico & more; left mysterious mounds & powerful spirit in the earth around our shore.

Osage, Ponca, Omaha, Kawpaw & Paw
all came, moved in, moved on, often in tears.
Native Americans here, by the banks of the great river, Great Spirit, a thousand years.

250 years since most recent humans gathered, new as Neo-Mississippians—that is, St. Louis.
Trappers & traders remade us as a center, & re-opened the gateway for others to enter.

Peoples descended from river folk—
Congo, Yangtse, Loire, Rhine, Tigris & Indus— great human rivers pouring & trickling into St. Louis— from every land, from every nation, from mountains, deserts, prairie & plain, some supplied & moved on, while many remained, sensing a spirit by the great river’s shore, a power spot, a place to stay, & be re-born.
Europeans, Africans, Asians, Americans all responding to the river’s call.

St. Louis, Mound City, River City,
city of baseball, blues, & beer,
an iconic American city established here.

Still a youngster on the millennial scale, new when measured on the Mississippian timeline.
Will our best days lie ahead as we enter our prime?

I too was reborn here —picked up on the spirit in the air, at a time when people made statements with their hair; Creeley, Ginsberg, Redmond, LeFlore opened up wide my poetry door.
Snyder administered the boddhisatva vow
to use words to bring light to the eternal now— where everyone suffers, as the great Buddha teaches, & love is the answer, as sweet Jesus preaches.

We live by the heartbeat.

The great river, North America’s pulse, throbs in us, in our bustling businesses, our blood, our spirit, flows into our music that animates the world.

The river’s timeless depths inform & challenge.
Its dynamic oneness models our future.

In the past our daughters & sons
have pioneered new directions.

Mr. Handy, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Scott Joplin, opened the world’s ears to musical innovation infused with the river’s vital vibration.

T.S. Eliot, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Kate Chopin & Maya Angelou, travelled with the river’s spirit, liberating writing with fresh language & points of view.

Henry Shaw & Barry Commoner
picked up on the current from the depths of the river & embraced nature’s healing & energy potential seeding a healthy future that now is essential.

Masters & Johnson stripped our denial bare, laid us naked as the river to make us more self accepting, self aware.

Our smarts & arts have represented us well.
Soul baring writers!
Music for the world to move to, groove to!
Oneness with nature within us & without!
Consciousness expansion! healing power! solar solutions!
Keys to our troubled world’s survival, & to ours, begins with us.

And the next two fifty begins a story
that can lead to disaster or to glory.
Will we be happy in our city’s mature years?
Will we get beyond our lingering, limiting fears?
For fear is at the root of hate,
a poison to individual & collective fate.

And we have certain obligations
to current & future generations.

Can we invest minds & money with wisdom & sanity to support what’s best for our common humanity?

Can we provide all kids good education
so some won’t be mired in stagnation
& instead can rise above their station
& add their great gifts to a great nation?

It’s time for this & other conversations.

Will we be known as a city of the gun,
or as one that nurtures life like the sun?

Will we leave as testament
a clean pristine environment?

& can we relate to the Other
as a sister or a brother,
as children of God & the great Earth Mother?

Black, white, yellow, red—
What matters is what’s in your heart & head.
Homophobia, racism, sexism—
These all need to be ex-isms.

What we need is to talk; we’re all human beings, together we can accomplish great things.

Soul to soul, & heart to heart
is the best & only place to start.

As in the East they say Namaste and Savati— the god in you honors the god in me.

And as mystics reveal throughout history the paradoxical universal mystery’s key is unity within diversity.

I declare this ST. LOUIS’S RE-BIRTH-DAY!
A time to heal, drive fear away.

The first two fifty we’ve made our mark with our smarts & with our arts.
The future already marks our deeds,
hums to our beat, will sow our seeds

The next two fifty, more smarts, more arts, & a focus on our hearts.

Time for St. Lou Is, truly, to become
St. Lou Us. All of us--one polity--
with mutual R-E-S-P-E-C-T,
a unity community,
less of me & more of we
to harness the energy of our DIVERCity;

When each part is great, the whole is greater.
Let St. Louis be the incubator.
Our sameness and our variety, united, creates synergy.
Open heart, open mind, fulfill the ends of humankind.

One with nature, one with each other,
we fulfill ourselves, what we are here for-- Fully human, free of stress, each a distinct wave in the river’s dynamic oneness.

And each wave is a living river,
a river flowing toward an infinite sea,
all of our ultimate destiny.

But now, our finite stay on earth,
is when we have to prove our worth.

Let us be reborn, renewed, & move forward this re-birth day, & let our smarts, arts & hearts lead US on our way

-michael castro-

January 2015

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.