Some poems & prompts by Kim Stafford                    

 

 

        Meeting Halfway

 

Behold this empty space

between your certainty and mine,

this arena of sunlight free

of claim and counter claim,

this bright meadow where no one

has shouted, bullied, or begged,

where butterflies are sovereign,

where birdsong is our legislation,

where you and I could walk

out into the open, look around,

and speak—first of the children,

then of our dreams, and only then

of the work we will do together.

                                                                                 

Prompt: Invite someone you disagree with to a beautiful encounter, a meeting in new ground, in a place where it would be difficult to argue in the old way…

 

 

      Advice from a Raindrop

 

You think you’re too small

to make a difference? Tell me

about it. You think you’re

helpless, at the mercy of forces

beyond your control? Been there.

 

Think you’re doomed to disappear,

just one small voice among millions?

That’s no weakness, trust me. That’s

your wild card, your trick, your

implement. They won’t see you coming

 

until you’re there, in their faces, shining,

festive, expendable, eternal. Sure you’re

small, just one small part of a storm that

changes everything. That’s how you win, 

my friend, again and again and again.

 

                                                                                    

Prompt: Speak in the voice of a creature or feral element to invite humans to think in a new way…

 

 

 

 

      New House Rules

 

In order to get beyond impasse,

Congress has replaced debate

with a listener’s furthering response:

 

You sound upset…

I see…that makes sense…

Tell me more about that…

I’m sad to hear your pain…

Let me see if I’m understanding…

How does this make you feel?

Have you felt this way before?

Say again what you just said — 

I need to understand.

How can I help?

                                                                                    

Prompt: Propose a benign set of rules for someone wallowing in dysfunction, anger, denial…inviting them into a new way to behave…

 

 

              Easy Pickings

 

It's easy to laugh in the blueberry field,

staccato plink and plunk as berries plummet

into the pail, and you hear children banter 

in a dozen languages among the green rows.

 

It's easy to forgive there, too — 

viewing old betrayals sweetly diminished 

by the honeyed crush of berries 

on your tongue.

 

It's even possible to imagine peace

between people who hated each other

before their children met between these rows

and asked one another, "Shall we pick together?"

 

Come pick with me, my enemy, my angry self,

come, split couple bickering over money,

come to the blueberry field, Palestine & Israel,

come bow and squint under the sun-splashed leaves,

 

come peer into these dark shadows for blue.

                                                                                    

Prompt: Write a poem that joins naming what is most difficult in the world with what is most beautiful…terror, honey, pestilence, child…

 

           

 

            Dew & Honey

 

Sip by sip in thimble cup

the meadow bees will drink it up

then ferry home to bounty’s hive

by flowers’ flavor hum and thrive

to show us how through word and song,

by gesture small and patience long,

in spite of our old foolish ways

we may fashion better days.

 

So, my friend, come sip and savor

syllables as crumbs of pleasure.

By sunrise, in our conversations,

we begin a better nation.

                                                

Prompt: Write a  little spell with rhyme and  sweet words to invite your people to the hard work we will do…

 

 

      White Flag Patriots

 

The children went first

because they had the most to lose — 

no color, no emblem on their flags,

no shouting, surrendering instead

as they shuffled toward 

    the White House,

some crying, some stern,

a few humming lullabies   

their mothers had taught them.

 

In the Rose Garden, where men 

babbled into microphones,

the children lay down in the grass 

to watch clouds drift west

until speeches trailed off

and only the wind was heard. 

 

Then white flags flashed

as the children rose and sang together, 

You have overcome, but we 

are not afraid.

                                                

Prompt: Tell a hard story, ending with a line from a song you love…

                      Nest Filled

 

Use your whirling wings to find the right tree. 

Use your pert eye to choose the level limb. 

Use your nimble feet to cherish the hospitable fork.

 

Use your fearless beak to gather twigs, leaves, 

grass and thistledown to weave your basket-house 

open to the wuthering sky. 

 

Use your body to be the tent over tender pebbles, 

lopsided moons. Then wait — warm, alert, still

through wind and rain, hawk-shadow, owl night.

 

Use your life to make life, spending all you have 

on what comes after. And if you are human, a true 

citizen, fully awake, then learn from the sparrow

 

how to build a house, a village, a nation. Use instinct 

to find the right place. Use thought to know the right 

time. Use wisdom to design the right action. 

 

In the era of stormy weather, build your 

sturdy nest, and fill it with the future.

 

                                                                                    

Prompt: Learn from a creature how to prevail…

 

 

     What Can a Poem Do?

 

When they learn I spend my days

scribbling little songs, people ask,

“What can a poem do, in this

troubled world? No offense, but

what difference can a poem make?

With war, and all our suffering,

why words on a wisp of paper?”

 

I’ve learned to hold my peace

as the mountain does when asked

“What can a mountain do?”

Or the wren when confronted,

“Why sing?” Or the mother

with infant in arms, “Why

love this helpless little thing?”

 

I’ll answer with a song.

                                                                        

Prompt: Is there a question people keep asking you, or you keep asking yourself? Post the question, then answer from a oblique realm of experience…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Child in the Corn Field

 

Out of the blue I received a poem

from a man who takes his sleepless newborn son

for a drive in the wee hours, and when the baby sleeps,

he writes little human stories under a streetlight

where all is quiet.

 

So I wrote him back, and we discussed poetry

and infancy and the virtues of the very early morning

until for what he perceived as my kindness, he 

wrote me about his sister, who had been a soldier

in Afghanistan.

 

And so I wrote to her about the importance of her

brother’s poetry, and she sent me a small collection

of her own—poems about what goes on even

as the war goes on: the chance life

of children.

 

And in the book, was a postcard of a child

in the corn field, somewhere high above the fighting

and I cried, looking out at the haze of trouble

beyond this moment of golden stillness

where our future stood alone.

 

                                                                                          

Prompt: Tell the story of how a thought came to you—the random sequence of life that leads you to a recognition…

 

 

                       2519

 

When they consider the rings of the tree

you plant today, they will celebrate

the concentric center and say “This 

is the year Greta crossed the sea.

 

This is the year they gathered to lament,

then turned lament to frenzy. As fire

pries open a fisted cone to scatter

seed, they made grief seed action.

 

By the rings ever outward, our descendants 

will trace the great change—summerwood

as the tree rises to journey through time

building bounty for all beings.

 

Will the great change be destruction?

Will we build a furnace out of Eden.

Will our comforts kill our children?

Shall oil burn the sky? Or can 

 

human wisdom like a sapling

grow taller, greener, more generous?

How can we know what lies ahead?

Plant a tree, and see.

Prompt: Be an emissary from the future come back to lay a foundation for the kind of world we need.

             The Turning

 

When they cut a tree, plant ten.

When they stain the river, welcome rain.

When they say no to wisdom, say yes.

When they say yes to greed, say no.

Know comfort and convenience kill.

Know economic growth withers earth.

How long shall we smoke the sky?

When they take the easy road,

choose the stony path.

If you cherish the children,

turn grief to gusto

and make sorrow sing.

 

                                                                                                            

Prompt:  Write your own instructions for changing the world…

 

 

             Dear Mr. President

 

In sheer contradiction of your efforts

to warn our fellow citizens of the danger

of immigrants, a certain Antonio—from Michoacán, 

who has been living without documents

as my neighbor for fifteen years—has put me 

to shame with his work ethic, thrift, good humor, 

and courage, building stone walls, repairing roads, 

tilling gardens, and otherwise inflicting beauty 

and good order on this neglected corner of our nation

in spite of all you say to drive him away.

 

You, sir, are not getting through! 

He keeps smiling, and bending to any task 

we offer for simple wages, humming a song

I can’t get out of my head or heart.

 

I do not know how to advise you, sir.

You have labored long and loud to cast him

down, cast him out, but he just keeps

humming that song: Que linda esta

la mañana, en que vengo a saludarte....

He is saying the morning is beautiful,

sir, and he greets you, singing.

                                                           

Prompt: Tell a tyrant  about something you find beautiful…

 

                                                            

 

 

     A Proclamation for Peace

 

Whereas the world is a house on fire;

Whereas the nations are filled with shouting;

Whereas hope seems small, sometimes

        a single bird on a wire

        left by migration behind.

 

Whereas kindness is seldom in the news

        and peace an abstraction

        while war is real;

 

Whereas words are all I have;

Whereas my life is short;

Whereas I am afraid;

Whereas I am free—despite all

        fire and anger and fear;

 

Be it therefore resolved a song

        shall be my calling—a song

        not yet made shall be vocation

        and peaceful words the work

        of my remaining days.

                                                                        

Prompt: Write a document consisting of your own “Whereas series,  leading to a bold “Therefore….”

 

       Connect the Dots

 

A veteran, slumped in a midnight

doorway, was trained to kill, killed,

and killing banished sleep.

 

A hurt child, age thirty-two, who

never had the food he needed, haunted

by his father’s blows, shoots meth.

 

A mother, abused as a girl, can’t

speak of it, can’t trust any boy

her girl brings home, shuns touch.

 

A nation, founded by the shot heard 

round the world, prevailing at Hiroshima, 

can’t understand daily massacres.

 

Yet a life of kind words and gentle

gestures, planting seeds and seeking

peace—where could that lead?

                                     

                      

Prompt: Write your own clusters of connection—the dark ones, and the ones filled with light…

 

 

 

                Blind Masoomeh 

Weaves Our Carpet in Iran

 

Her hands know connections 

where others do not.

Her smile knows peace 

where others do not. 

She knows strong cords rise 

for soft cords knotted between.

Her soul is here to give delight 

to those who can see what she 

knows, can feel what she brings forth

from beautiful darkness, from deep 

living spirit. Touching this carpet, 

their souls receive her gift 

and begin to smile.

 

Do you know 

a greater miracle?

 

                                                                                    

Prompt: Describe the beautiful action of a person your country considers an enemy…

 

 

    What Generals Might 

     Learn from Mothers

 

Repertoire of the General: 

attack, retreat, clean your weapons, 

die, surrender, live to fight another day.

 

Repertoire of the Mother: listen, ask,

offer, cajole, listen, laugh, feed, remember,

sing a story, listen, ask, distract, embrace, 

think, listen, play, wonder, change.

                                                                        

Prompt: List the skills of people in the tribe of the past, and skills in the tribe of the future…

 

 

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