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Building a Nation

A Graduation Poem


Toby Baker

May, 2010




Imagine it…just imagine it!  The endless rich fertile possibilities of it!

Land!  So vast Lewis and Clark could not see the seas on the Pacific edge of it;

Few had climbed the icy crowns of the Grand Tetons or stood dazzled by pure rivers alive with trout.

Wind, harnessed, found passage over turbulent Great Lakes to Hudson Bay and back.

Wind that swept wild from the north, sculpting rock in deep river valleys,

showering arid Navaho hunting grounds with life-sustaining spring rains,

onward south-south-east through Shenandoah’s leafy green valleys and rolling Smoky Mountains

blowing north all the way to that wave-washed rock in Plymouth.

Away you rolling river!



Go West!  The wind blows west!

Pack that mule and weep goodbye and feel the wind blow west!

Hear the vespers it sings to the train—

packed with miners, desperate and greedy

oblivious to ramshackle towns

that stumble along behind.

All blowing west to into the great frontier.

All blowing west…



This is land, alive and waiting, powerful with what could happen.

What does it take to turn a country full of immigrants into a nation?

Like a gleaming new bicycle still in its box, there is “some assembly” required, I think.

Where are the instructions—those perfect how-to steps with the money-back guarantee?

It’s so easy to do it wrong.

Mistakes, poor judgment, greed, lack of good character…

it adds up and takes a weary toll

exhausting those whose life work is to repair, replace, rework.



A lonely battlefield, quiet now,

wet with tears and blood--

a steep price for safe-keeping.

A nation must protect its citizens

but how does a citizen thank another

for shouldering a rifle and

turning into harm’s way?

















But, when we get it right—and we do sometimes—the bridges soar,

planes fly skies safely and no one texts while driving.

Business thrives, jobs stand strong and the family home retains its value.

Education educates, reminding us to respect, tolerate and seek common ground—

our most valued and rare real estate.


When we get it right it’s like that TV ad where simple acts of kindness begin

with the return of a dropped toy to a child and continue one to another throughout the day.

When we get it right it is that simple—a step backwards out of the rush of rush-hour traffic and into

a place fine and safe, where safety is so certain nights are filled with splendid dreams.


Oh, Shenandoah, we are a world still trying to write our instruction manual.

Away!  We’re bound away, all wandering far but staying near.

We cannot build this nation alone.  Together we cross the wide Missouri.

When we get it right.