Sept 26 — G. M. Hopkins — “The Caged Skylark”

Posted on November 27, 2017 by mission-and-identity

Wednesday September 26   —  “Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells”

Sun after an epic deluge reminds me of things I love about living in the heart of the Great Lakes, from torrents to an afternoon that invites me to look out my open window and taste the stillness that flows from beauty in the sky.  Still, we have not yet turned the corner of a work week that can wear us ordinary people down,   half way into a work week sometimes wears, even grinds.   Perhaps that’s what brought G. M. Hopkins to this metaphor: a skylark’s wild explosions of energy and what happens when all that free spirit gets caged — skylark caged, a human being caged, “day-laboring-out life’s age.”

The cage does not define the lark, nor the daily burdens define the person.  A reminder:  it helps when reading Hopkins, to give his word play a practice run until you get the cadences right and until you give his word choices a chance startle your imagination and make you smile.

Three good surprises today?  Sure.   Have a blest week.


john sj


Today’s Post:  “The Caged Skylark”

As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage

Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells—

That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;

This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.


Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage,

Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,

Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells

Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.


Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest—

Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest,

But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.


Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best,

But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed

For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.

G. M. Hopkins, sj   1844-1889

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Sept 24 — Mary Tobacco & Joy Harjo

Monday, September 24  —

“Talking with the Sun” & “The high plains of Pine Ridge, SD”

This weekend’s early autumn sun & crisp air.  You can see by the way people walk around campus that breathing is easier these days.  Lots of smiles for this respite from late summer’s hot damp stretch.   For me, today’s morning stillness carries the tastes of the weekend in Detroit with Mary Tobacco, a soul friend of 50 years, who came to savor Detroit:  tastes of energy all over downtown; some great vegetarian food near the Art Museum just off Woodward;  letting the majestic power of the Detroit River offer us stillness and the company of all sorts of women and men and kids loving the sun; even, on Saturday some improbable whitecaps from autumn winds that ruffled our hair;   lots of young people on the new scooters that seem to be taking the country by storm.

Did we love the massive river more, or Belle Isle’s wedding cake fountain — now restored to its century old elegance — dancing in the late summer sun, inviting romantic pictures and joy-drenched laughter?  Mary lives on Pine Ridge, SD c. 300 miles east of the Rocky Mountains.  The “High Plains,” as that land is sometimes called, offers semi-arid, dry spells punctuated with spectacular hail and thunder storms, a land where one can look at the Black Hills, c. 70 miles away to the West and watch thunder storms sweep the prairie.  Time along the Detroit River and on Belle Isle offered Mary as much astonishing surprise as massive thunder storms on Pine Ridge astonish me.   I took this shot on June 19, 2010 about 4 miles from where Mary and her children live on a steep canyon slope.

Highway 18,  Pine Ridge, SD  sunset with a storm front

Mary, a Lakota,  is a friend of the Creek poet Joy Harjo.   They share a love of the land and sky, an intimate understanding of the beauty and the wearing fatigue of poverty so often marked with deep racism but also with the mystical surprises that close family ties offer.   This morning, I was listening for a voice I had not heard recently.   I found Joy Harjo, soul friend and strong poet.  Two years ago, she sent me a new book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.   On September 2, 2016, I found my first poem there, “Talking with the Sun.”  How does a grandmother carry her fourth granddaughter out into the sun on a rainy New York Times Square morning?    You could read the poem with pauses.   Or you may imagine driving along that highway as the sunset shows off a front being pushed East by the storm’s energy.

Have a blest week,


john sj

P.S. Happy Mercy Day!  Mercy Day is the anniversary of the opening of the first “House of Mercy” in 1827 in Dublin, Ireland.

Today’ Post   Joy Harjo  “Talking with the Sun”

I believe in the sun.
In the tangle of human failures of fear, greed, and
forgetfulness, the sun gives me clarity.
When explorers first encountered my people, they called us
heathens, sun worshippers.
They didn’t understand that the sun is a relative, and
illuminates our path on this earth.

After dancing all night in a circle we realize that we are a
part of a larger sense of stars and planets dancing with us
When the sun rises at the apex of the ceremony, we are
There is no mistaking this connection, though Walmart
might be just down the road.
Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the
earth and sun; we exist together in a sacred field of

Our earth is shifting.  We can all see it.
I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that
everything has changed.  It’s so hot; there is not enough
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.

The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to
think like Indians: everything is connected dynamically
at an intimate level.
When you remember this, then the current wobble of the
earth makes sense.  How much more oil can be drained,
Without replacement; without reciprocity?

I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn
to find the sun.
It was the fourth morning since the birth of my fourth
This was the morning I was to present her to the sun, as a
relative, as one of us.  It was still dark, overcast as I walked
through Times Square.
I stood beneath a twenty-first century totem pole of symbols
of multinational corporations, made of flash and neon.

The sun rose up over the city but I couldn’t see it amidst the
Though I was not at home, bundling up the baby to carry
her outside,
I carried this newborn girl within the cradleboard of my
I held her up and presented her to the sun, so she would be
recognized as a relative,
So that she won’t forget this connection, this promise,
So that we all remember, the sacredness of life.

Joy Harjo

Mary with two of her children near her home in canyon country.

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Sept 21 – My Dad, born 1907, would be 111 today

Friday, September 21

After chilly rain yesterday, today’s morning sun tells news of autumn on its way,  my favorite season, and at the ending of this work week, three soul friends come visiting.  Merritt “Roe” Smith,  my longest kinsman of the academy comes from MIT along with Dave Lucsco whom Roe recommended and I hired as the second and final managing editor of Technology and Culture.  Now he works at Auburn.  Our work connected us over years of passion for scholarly excellence and ripened into deep resilient shared memories.  Later today, after Roe and Dave have each headed home,  Mary Tobacco, whom I’ve known longer than either, known and loved as I did her mother Curley before she died of cancer late in the last century, took matters in her own hands for some face time this summer.  My surgery kept me from time on Pine Ridge this year.  She will spend the weekend as a guest in our house.

How to take in such depth of beauty resilient over decades of shared commitments —  joy and grief, fatigue and energy and gratitude for deep beauty?  Poetry helps.  Today, I am inviting David Whyte to talk with the four of us along with the 2400 other readers of the “Work Day/hard time” list.   Best to read “The Journey” out loud, with pauses.   Have a blest weekend, maybe pausing to taste the approach of Autumn.

john st sj


Today’s Post  –  David Whyte “The Journey”

Above the mountains

the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

from House of Belonging by David Whyte

p.s. When we buried my Dad in 1980, I had never known grief so raw.   Dad’s death came 3 weeks after his birthday just after he had gone jaundiced from the cancer that took him on October 12.  I held him most of his last night, we told each other important truths that lived between us. Today, his beauty and the grace he awakened in me back then keep my company.

We used a passage of scripture for his funeral:
“Love tenderly,
Act justly,
And walk humbly before your God.”

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Sept 19 “In Love” Denise Levertov

Wednesday, September 19  —  Connie de Biase, her birthday month,  19  months after we buried her

I found myself writing a paragraph contemplation of Connie on her first birthday since leaving us.   Now, one birthday later,  Connie infuses my imagination;  I still love her last year’s contemplation/celebration.

Connie in our 4 decades of kinship partnered with me in our mutual commitment to noticing.   When I miss her most is on Saturday mornings when I am home and able to Sabbath the day, especially driving into center city to buy community bread.  I used to call her while driving back home with fresh food in two bags in the back seat and we would talk about the condition of our inner lives.  Our last year or more were more brave and sad as Connie recognized her growing diminishment and her grief at losing the life in Madison that she loved and lived so gracefully.  Talking with her was part of that inner movement,  Ignatius calls these “inner disturbances” and counsels a habit of paying attention to them whether consolations or desolations.   Noticing.

originally posted January 23, 2017

Perhaps this Denise Levertov poem came to mind because I flew into JFK Saturday, braved Long Island’s expressways with their too tight turns matched by slightly-too-narrow lanes, to spend time with a lifelong soul friend, Sr. Consuela de Biase, csj.   Connie has become frail, like the ancient poet in today’s poem.  She misses nothing, I realized, but you have to lean in close to hear;  worn with fatigue, she whispers, and pauses to breathe.  We visited three times  (c. 90 minutes,  25 minutes, and 4 or 5 when we said goodbye before I headed back to JFK early Sunday).  I love it that the 40 mile drive on the parkway was wearing;  it reminds me that those miles and our 3 conversations are of a piece with decades of mutual listening, the fabric of Connie’s life.

In today’s poem Denise Levertov writes of an ancient poet whose frail strengths remind me of Connie.   This beautiful early autumn day might tempt you to open your window or step outside so you can read “In Love” bathed in beauty, breathing a little too.

Have a blest day,


johns sj


Today’s Post   “In Love”

Over gin and tonic (an unusual treat) the ancient poet
haltingly —            not because mind and memory
falter, but because language, now,
weary from so many years
of intense partnership,
comes stiffly to her summons,
with unsure footing —
recounts, for the first time in my hearing, each step
of that graceful sarabande, her husband’s
last days, last minutes, fifteen years ago.

She files her belongings freestyle, jumbled
in plastic bags — poems, old letters, ribbons,
old socks, an empty picture frame;
but keeps her fifty years of marriage wrapped, flawless,
in something we sense and almost see —
diaphanous as those saris one can pass through a wedding ring.

Denise Levertov  1923 – 1997

Connie laughing,  smiling,  contemplative  August 2006

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Sept 14 – Jim Janda – “Crying for a Vision”

Friday, September 14  “ to cry for a vision
is a sacred task”

The Lakota expression “hanblechia” means “he or she cries out for a vision.” It is the name of one of the most sacred Lakota rituals.  It begins with a sweat bath, singing begging prayers as the bodies of the people in the sweat lodge welcome supersaturated steam from igneous rocks,  which won’t explode when they have been fire heated to deep red; the people in the dark lodge have broken a sweat before the singer pours the first dipper of water onto them.  The lodge has the shape of a half circle, the singer does not pour the first water until the door flap is closed and the people have all taken a position sitting cross legged and naked.  In that posture the roof of the lodge is only a few inches from the top of your head while you have bent forward to be close to the red hot stones which are a few inches from your face.

When the one seeking a vision finishes the sweat, s/he lets the holyman lead them to a place to pray alone, sometimes for 4 days of complete fasting, crying for a vision to help you, “a pitiful human” receive a vision to live by.

It sometimes occurs to me that this ritual of begging for a vision can make a powerful prayer in these times when anger and danger and fear want to cloud our sense of our sacred lives.   Jim Janda, a mystic poet and once a mystic Jesuit, wrote this poem out of his awareness of  “hanblechia”  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blest weekend,

john sj


Today’s Post

To cry for a
is a sacred

after hearing
a holyman
after taking
a sweat bath
with sage and
sweet grass

one must climb a
mountain alone—

here a song
may be heard
here a vision
may be given
here a dance
may be learned—

one must then
the mountain

to sing the
to live the
to begin the

J Janda


Jim Janda   d. August, 2010

Jim Janda lived as a mystic pilgrim for most of his 74 years. He died August 7, 2010 in Salt Lake City, a priest of that diocese since 1996. Jim also lived for a quarter century as a Jesuit which is when we met. Jim was “well known for his gentle and generous heart. . . . During his life he wrote and published a series of short religious stories for children, school plays and books of poetry.” So reads his obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune. The obit is accurate, as was the stated cause of his death, emphysema; I think he smoked too much. I can’t remember ever visiting with Jim without feeling bathed in wisdom and tenderness, and in his awareness of how deep grief runs in human beings, right there along with whimsy.

The Tribune’s evocation of “stories for children, school plays and books of poetry . . .” does not even hint at the flint-hard prose and fine-tuned ironies that throb and flow through his poems. Today’s post comes from the 1970s when Jim lived on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Like many of his poems, “The Town in March” is homey and close to the grass without flinching from pain.

Jim Janda reminds me of Joy Harjo. I am glad I thought to pull his book off my poetry shelf.


{from the April 30, 2018 poetry post “The Town in March”}

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Sept 12, “Some 400 expats and local guests are expected” Crain’s, September 9, 2018

Wednesday,  September 12, 2018   “Flocking back to the D: Detroit Homecoming 2018”

Is this the third or the fourth Detroit Homecoming?   3 high-profile days when former Detroiters, now successful and resourceful, are invited back for a three day pitch to re-learn (and re-invest in?) the city.  Among other events last year, expats took one of three immersion tours in three neighborhoods (outside downtown and Midtown) where serious revitalization efforts are underway.  University District (see below) is one.   I can see it out my office window.   The excitement of a busload of expats with “real money” coming to our neighborhood, plus Brightmoor, and Dexter-Linwood is real.   It’s worth the effort to show off this come-back city.

It is also worth the effort to remember the decades when the wounds in these neighborhood emerged;  to remember the blight of fear of violence and of contempt for the city.  These thoughts led me to bring back Detroit poet Jamaal May’s blunt “There are Birds Here.”   Like every strong poem, the poet’s search for precise, flint-hard words can renew a reader’s imagination and vocabulary,  that, along with work on our neighborhood across the street, also counts as  rebirth.

Every poem does best when read aloud, with pauses.

Have a blest day,
john sj

Today’s Post  “For Detroit”  Jamaal May

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.

Jamaal May, “There Are Birds Here” from The Big Book of Exit Strategies. Copyright © 2016 by Jamaal May. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books. Source: The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016)


p.s.  University District

  • Private investment: $3.4 million
  • Home renovations: 276
  • Homes: 1,252
  • Home sales (2016): 71
  • City-owned commercial properties: 1

Overview: This area, anchored by the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College, has been a key target in the city’s redevelopment efforts outside the greater downtown area. Development interest has been robust.  The Live6 Alliance, an effort by Detroit Mercy, Kresge and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.,  was launched three years ago to bring economic development to the Livernois-McNichols area, which includes the Fitzgerald neighborhood targeted by The Platform and Century Partners.



Motor City Mashup  2018

“Organizers previously held an annual pitch competition, but this year startups and entrepreneurs will mingle with the visiting Detroit natives through a networking fair called Motor City Mashup.

Created based on community research by Challenge Detroit and led by Medvis Jackson, a Challenge Detroit fellow, and Sheu-Jane Gallagher, an experienced startup coach, Motor City Mashup will bring 50 small businesses. Many will set up in booths, displaying signs showing what kind of advice they may need from industry experts.”

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Sept 7 – “small & fond & local”

Friday,  September 7,  the first full weekend in September

In Detroit where I live, a Northeast weather path brought an end to gummy sticky air that hindered breathing.  This poem happened to me during the same week when many of us are still negotiating modest compromises between summer’s best and its worst.  This morning, when I stepped out for some errands,  fresh,  chilly air greeted me.  Tiny changes in weather patterns, much like an evanescent smile exchanged with a passing friend,  well . . . .  such small events refresh my spirits and imagination.  Yours too I hope.

Micro events, that’s what today’s poet sees and savors.

Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.   More next week.

john sj

P.S. Thanks to Mary Catherine Harrison who introduced me to poet Mary Karr with this poem.

Today’s Post  “The Voice of God”

Mary Karr

Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
could be cured with a hot bath,
says God from the bowels of the subway.
but we want magic, to win
the lottery we never bought a ticket for.
(Tenderly, the monks chant, embrace
the suffering.) The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five-year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

Karr speaking at the St. Louis County Library on September 8, 2016

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Sept 5 – Shiraz is more than a wine; it is an ancient city in Iran and the home of the first great wine

Wednesday  September 5 – “My city is that cup of sunshine. . .”
{My laptop has just emerged from the EMS unit and I did not have time to write a new one, so this is a favorite from four years ago.}

Professor Fatemeh Keshavarz, University of Maryland’s Roshan Chair of Persian Studies, is a poet and a scholar. In September 2014, she welcomed us into our academic year by reading a poem she wrote a few days before September 11, 2001 — before she or we knew about the 9-11 attacks on New York, Washington DC and a field in western Pennsylvania. This first Monday of October, national news led with a story of a violent mass shooting in Las Vegas. It is hard not to go numb with what feels like a relentless rush of hatred carried out with precise killing weapons. Fatemeh locates that same violence in a vast universe of creative intensity and serenity. If you were not there in 2014, and even if you were, it’s worth reading again (

Here is another of Fatemeh Keshavarz’s poems. She celebrates “Shiraz,” her home city in Iran, which has lived as a center for art and beauty for c. 4000 years. Wikipedia tells me that “The oldest sample of wine in the world, dating to approximately 7,000 years ago, was discovered on clay jars recovered outside of Shiraz.”

Detroit is only 316 years old, but I am using the poem to celebrate Motown today. The beauty of taste and the pause that good wine inspires, can help put terror in its much larger context of the human condition over centuries. Lift a glass when you get off work.

Best read “Shiraz” out loud several times, with some pauses. Have a blest day.


John sj


Held up to gods
In the palm of a giant’s hands
A rare handcrafted marble cup
Brimming with sunshine
Defined at the outer edges
With tall cypress trees
That line up at dawn reverently
To interpret the horizons
In their meticulous green thoughts

My city is
That cup of sunshine
I can drink to the last drop
And be thirsty for more.


Shiraz, Dec. 21, 2000

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Aug 29 Maria Ibarra Frayre – “what it means to be Catholic when you’re a young, liberal, feminist . . . “

Wednesday August 29
“ But how can they believe me?
When sometimes I don’t even believe myself.
Maybe it’s time to be loud.”

Today’s Post –  “Being Catholic”
I wear my faith quietly,

like a pebble in your pocket

Smooth and cold,

Comforting when you hold it tight in your hand.

But to be more honest,

I wear my faith secretly, cautious of who

to tell the truth because

I’m not sure how my circle

of liberal, leftists, almost

socialists would take it.

How could I, a feminist who uses reason,

logic, and kindness, follow a church

that doesn’t let women be leaders?

Follow a God

who believes LGBTQ loved ones will rot in hell?

follow an institution

that rapes children?


I want to tell them that

that isn’t my church, isn’t my God.

My God lives in jails and detention centers,

in water bottles left in the desert,

and school teachers who work too much for too little.

My God is in parents who love their gay

and trans kids as reflections

of God’s own image.

My faith is the holiness of women, the life

in service for others.

My God is liberation.

She is the power of the storm

and the stillness of it when it’s over.

She is Brown laborers

rebuilding a city,

and the sweat of their foreheads

feeding their families.

But how can they believe me? When

sometimes I don’t even believe myself.

Maybe it’s time to be loud.

As loud as the annoying (and wrong) fetus

fanatics who are pro-life without

really being pro-living.

Maybe it’s time to let my faith breathe. Take

my pebble and let throw it

in the water.

Let it make ripples.


Let it make a fucking tsunami.



p.s.  Maria is the Southeast Michigan regional organizer for We the People Michigan. She immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico when she was nine years old and grew up Southwest Detroit and Dearborn. Maria has been fighting for immigrant justice for almost a decade, including grassroots organizing and political advocacy. She works closely with grassroots organizations to create alternative systems of immigrant-centered support and working to put people of color and women in positions of leadership. Maria graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in English, and then went on to get a Masters of Social Work at the University of Michigan. On her free time Maria likes going for hikes, drinking expensive tea, and after reading Maria’s poem three or four times today, I came upon Karen Tumulty’s Washington Post column, “Why am I still a Catholic.”

She, in her own voice, is as compelling to me as Maria’s “young, liberal, feminist.”  Both writers helped me be anointed in these wounded days of grief and anger.

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August 27 – “There is good news” — Mark 1:15

Monday,  August 27  “committed to being surprised”

When I pray from Mark or Matthew or Luke (the three “synoptic gospels”),  it helps me to treat the evangelist like a poet, to allow the surprise buried in the text to stop me in my tracks,  like a strong poem does.

When I wrote this poem based on Mark 1:15 about the time I took a job here in 1980, I found the challenges facing the university daunting.   Sayings like this one: “Repent and believe the good news” began to get my attention, like a strong poem should.   The teaching of Ignatius, that I ask to grow in “intimate knowledge of our Lord who has become human . . .” (in Latin “intima cognitio”)  began to challenge me;  to become human means, among other things, being born in some particular place with its own history.  Jesus, my history told me, was born in one of the world’s meanest, poorest, and most violent places — the Roman Empire’s grinding police state where crucifixion of people who opposed that state became horrors up and down that small country (e.g., as many as 2000 rebel fighters during one period in the early childhood of the boy Jesus).  Sometimes it took a day or two for a strong man to suffocate to death;  crucifixion was intended to intimidate and subdue opposition.

For me that became the surprise of taking the saying of the young man Jesus, “Repent and believe the good news” as meant seriously.  What could the poet mean?   And that led me, little by little, to notice that where I was born  (Marinette, WI, 1939) was a much less frightening place than where Jesus was born.  More, for example, like the lives of immigrant children torn away from their mothers and fathers at U.S. borders the past few months.  It helps, when I read this saying from Mark 1:15, to be open to deep, shocking, life-giving surprise, like every strong poem.  Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Not everything about my Catholic faith makes me proud; but this teaching and men and women who have tried to live it often stops me in my tracks,  like any strong poem should.

Have a blest week,


john sj

Today’s Post  “Repent and believe the good news.”   {Mk 1:15}

Is our main repenting, perhaps, made of believing good news,
that there is news,
something new,
and it is good?

That what we already know is not all there is,
that we must approach the presence of God
knowing we will be surprised,
committed to being surprised
and so to living in a surprise-able way?

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