Dear Mr. Ríos,

Hello, my name is Alex. Over the last month, for poetry month, our class has read different poems and your poem “When Giving is All We Have” really spoke to me. Mr. Ríos, your poem reminded me so much of my grandma.

My grandma died about three years ago and it hit my family hard because she always gave. In your poem you say, “We have been better for it, / We have been wounded for it” (5-6). This line brought me pain and happiness because my grandma became better for it, and she also became wounded for it. I loved the way you used tone in this line, you express joy and then you express sadness, you showed the two sides of the world in one sentence. In this line, “Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet, / Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails” (7-8), I love the diction you used with the word faces. Instead of using giving has many sides or views you used faces, and I like that because faces show emotion and you describe emotions in that line. That line touched me because you showed me that giving can be done however and whenever, it is not set in stone that you have to do give a certain way. Also you can give with any emotion, mad or quiet, and you can give something big or something small.

Mr. Ríos your poem “When Giving is All We Have” changed my view on life and brought back memories that reminded me of people who always gave, and set a good example for me to live my life. I loved the tone and the diction that you used to make the poem deeper and more meaningful. I really enjoyed your poem Mr. Ríos and wanted you to know that it changed my life.


High School
Huntersville, NC

May 1, 2016

Dear Alex,

Thank you for your kind words about my poem and especially for sharing your thoughts on your grandma with me. 

The same way the poem affected you, your letter has done the same for me. My own mother just passed away a few weeks ago and I think of her in just the same way as you do your grandma—she gave, all her life. My mother was a nurse and survived the Battle of Britain, which was a terrible time in history.  But she came out of that experience of being bombed by wanting to help people and to try and make the world—in however small a way, and in whatever hopeful way she could—a better place. We hear those words all the time, but to live them has a real effect on others. Your grandma, clearly, had that effect on you, and I’m glad.  When you talk about your grandma herself being better for giving but also wounded by it, I understand, and it makes me think about my mother.

We are lucky to know people who give, and we are even luckier to be carriers of their spirit. They make us want to do good things, I think. And even if we don’t know anyone quite like that, we know something better is out there. Why not let it be us who brings good into the world? 

There’s a quirky thing I remember about my mother and father. My father always used to sing a silly little song to my mother, a song that came out just after WWII. The basic lyric was, “I’m a little petunia in an onion patch, an onion patch….” It was silly, but my father meant it—he was saying something about my mother, about her genuine spirit, but we would all laugh. After all these years, though, that laughing has added up to something very important to me.

Your very particular observation about my use of “faces” in the poem is a very good one.  As I was writing the poem, I was thinking of people who had mattered to me—not in the abstract, but real people.  And when I thought of them, I saw them—that is, their faces were right there, right where I kept them inside of me.  That is emotion.

That giving can be done “however and whenever”—you got the poem, profoundly.  And that is the best present a poem can receive.  You got in in your own way and have shared it well.

Please give my best to all your classmates at your high school and to your teacher.  And let me add this: thank you for giving your time to me.

All best,