A heaping dose of darkness,
a slender pour of light,
a ringing spoon of silver
transforming wrong to right.
Deep inside the darkness let
a glimmer be revealed,
a slender path ahead
to where we will be healed.
Dark and light together—
loving how they swirled.
Now you’ve had your coffee,
go repair the world.
Convent Print Shop
After the pandemic, in the second spring,
when, at last, we all began to get about again,
the good Sisters, who had been sheltering in place
for a thousand years, began to hear, when children
came to help or be blessed, legends of ordinary
saints in hard times—the homeless man who carried
food to camps and buried the lost when no one came,
the mother who taught school to hundreds by Zoom,
mechanic who repaired the ambulance again and again,
girl who played her flute from the rooftop, singing
her soul for the housebound, farmer who delivered
produce boxes to anonymous curbs, nurse who
ministered when the doctor died.
They printed these as verses, stories, hymns and psalms,
like the little flowers of Francis and Clare, to give away
in all directions, as the plum trees burst into bloom.
Home School Thoughts for All of Us
In the pandemic, what should we all be learning?
How to cook a meal. How to clean a house, a porch, a yard.
How to plant a garden. How to use tools. How to fix
broken things: sew a button, mend a hole, do laundry,
wash dishes like a pro.
How to be sad and get over it. How to find the music
that restores you. How to walk so your troubles fall from
your shoulders. How to write your troubles to make them
visible, then manageable, then smaller, and finally funny.
How to know a true friend. How to let go old friends
who make you feel bad about yourself. How to give
generously to a friend by listening, asking, wondering.
How to feed a friendship so it roots, deepens, grows.
How to think something through. How to question
your fears, interrogate them, talk back to them. How to remember
something so precious you are less afraid. How to make clear
what most calls to you, what you love, what you will do to sustain it.
How to have a dream toward a life worth planning for, saving for,
working for. How to design ways to make steady progress toward
a worthy goal. How to identify a dream that is so important, you will
let go lesser things to achieve it.
How to know what you need. How to pare away what you do need—objects, habits, false wishes, propaganda coming at you that is foreign to who you are—so you can give your energy to what you really want.
How does it feel in your body when love is real—love for a person,
for a place, for a feeling about who you really are, a longing for
what you most want to do with this life? This is your compass,
your inner landmark, your truth principle. Only you can know.
Health. Rest. Calm. Breath. Patience. Affection. Humor. Active hope.
In pandemic time, when numbers
fill the news—so many sick, or dead—
and you hunker down, sheltering in place,
counting the days, puttering around—
is it rain, gray skies that make you feel
under the weather, a moody sag,
heavy step?—No! The first twinge
when you swallow sore, and you
look up, wide-eyed: Is this it! Have I
joined the count? Am I stepping
the hero’s journey of doom?
But then—oh hallelujah!—
your nose begins to run, and like a trumpet
you blow and blow, reveling in tissue with
your old dear friend, the common cold,
come round like a bad uncle you
once shunned, but now could kiss.
Dueling Dreams of Prophecy
All the churches will be packed,
the Dow and Nasdaq roaring back
through banishment of so-called facts.
Like golf balls on the fairway thwacked
one by one my rivals sacked
(no need for diplomatic tact).
All will have what they have lacked
in cheering crowds with MAGA hats!
We will live what our elders told from the Great Depression:
privation, loss, courage, compassion, thrift. Sheltering in place
will form the simpler life we need to honor climate truth.
Each will live a story of treasure lost and virtues found—lost
job, house, parent, friend—stories of hospital packed, hero
nurse, home school, census trimmed, recipes for cooking
spare, and then an election not about politics but survival.
We will dig for deep humanity, and find each other there.
Dear friends all, live this dream together.
Shopping Cart above the Ravine
in the Time of Pandemic
Down there somewhere, a tent or tarp, and
a cardboard bed. Along this road, someone
saw a cougar last month. Forecast shows no sun.
After midnight, train’s wail. At sunrise, crows, sirens.
In the cart, neighbors start leaving food and water,
sleeping bag in a garbage bag, matches and gloves.
By dawn, they’re gone. Rain, moss, shadows. Only
a matter of time, some say, from a safe distance
across the fence. Every dawn provisions disappear,
we celebrate. So far, the cart stands empty.
Would you rather have good news
at a bad time, or bad news at a good?
Give me the good news, please.
Okay: Bad times don’t last forever.
Man, I needed that. And the bad news?
Good times don’t last forever, either.
So news is, basically,Things change.
When it’s bad, we need the good.
That’s new, old, and always.
I did nothing today—yeah, not a damn thing.
Just laid around the house, stayed home
doing nothing—my full-time occupation, see?
Didn’t kill anybody, didn’t steal a dime, didn’t tell
one lie, or covet another than my own, because I was
just home minding my own business.
I did nothing—didn’t inflict capitalism on anyone,
didn’t make robo calls, didn’t rail helplessly against
a politician all day long and far into the night, though
I could have, having plenty of good reason.
But I didn’t. Instead, I did nothing—didn’t betray
a single friend, didn’t break up with my love, didn’t
kick the dog, didn’t strew pollution along the street.
I did nothing, a skill I’ve practiced for a long time.
I didn’t gerrymander a congressional district,
didn’t frack sacred lands for natural gas, didn’t
tell anybody we’ll figure out later what to do
with all this spent nuclear fuel, saying
the studies have not yet been completed.
No, I didn’t say that, or any other false thing.
I did nothing, instead. Didn’t gamble away
my children’s world in the name of progress,
saying “Let’s just be comfortable now, and
figure out the rest later.” If I did, they could
tell I was faking, having had so much practice
listening to the news.
I didn’t advertise anything no one needs.
I didn’t scan Craigslist for things I don’t need.
I didn’t say money-back guarantee when
I didn’t mean it. I didn’t do that either.
So I just did nothing—didn’t break the lock-down,
didn’t go out to infect anyone, or carry contagion home.
Didn’t say “Just this once.” Not once. Not once at all.
You see, I did nothing. I did it with a practiced grace,
sitting on my porch—slouching, really, in my old chair,
doing nothing, not one thing.
You can call me lazy, devoid of ambition,
sure to wind up a sorry excuse for a modern citizen,
and you’ll be right. Nothing can be done about that,
though. At least, not by me.
In one chart, the line swoops up
to mark the stricken in a wave
that surges, while a lower line
ekes out finite hospital beds.
In another chart, stocks tumble
in a jagged line, blips of hope
crushed in descent, erasing gains
of the long binge.
May my line be flat for ordinary
days—half a cup of rice, the last
apple, second pot for the teabag,
and dusk in gratitude:
each breath’s infinite blessing.
Dr. Fauci’s Smile
Now we live for the day
the good doctor can stand
at the microphone, his
furrowed brow softening,
a modern renaissance beginning
as a wistful Mona Lisa smile
slowly ghosts his face, and he
speaks the four-beat line:
We got through it.
What does it take to get there?
Shelter in place. Lead a simple life.
Learn how little you need.
Prepare to smile.
I should put it on my resume—
I’ve made it my profession.
Let me tell you how many
ways things can go wrong.
Every dream I cherish I
break down in short order.
Give me a night, I’ll wrestle
any vision to surrender. I’m
where ideas come to die.
I’m worried that’s why
my friends don’t call.
Chain of Command
The virus spreads concentric
from a cough to take a school,
dispatching children to parents,
parents to grandparents, until
the invisible touches many.
Your decision to be kind
to kin and strangers spreads
concentric far past where
you can see, as the moon
lifts the tide, as mist
rises there, and rain
falls here, for need.
Pandemic Business Model
Do you keep your hours until you sell
the last onion? Do you stay open, even
as the shelves empty? Do you send your
workers home with a “Good Luck!”
Or do you pay your workers until this
has passed, or the money’s gone, whichever
comes first? Do you stand in the empty store
and take a long breath, counting
If you count your blessings, having given
it all away, when the lights come back on,
we’ll shop with you.
Email from the CEO
I feel your pain—the pandemic
touches us all, reaching our millions
of loyal customers who make possible
my eight million dollar annual salary, so
now more than ever it’s important to keep
those premium checks rolling in so we can
take care of you if something goes wrong—
I mean something really bad, like a car accident
that might impair your ability to maintain
your premiums. Remember, we’re all in this
together. I’m rooting for you!
Bird House Hat
In quarantine, at last, I have
time to stand so still, all flit
and whir the wren comes
curious to try the twig perch,
peer through the knothole
in my contraption, balanced
tall and Eden-like, to find
in the hollow dark inviting
grass, moss, and thistledown
at ready for the weaving,
while I behind closed eyes
in tree pose, breathing
long and slow, await
Shelter in Place
Long before the pandemic, the trees
knew how to guard one place with
roots and shade. Moss found
how to hug a stone for life.
Every stream works out how
to move in place, staying home
even as it flows generously
outward, sending bounty far.
Now is our time to practice—
singing from balconies, sending
words of comfort by any courier,
hoarding lonesome generosity
to shine in all directions like stars.
Dr. Virus Prescribes
All of humanity's problems stem from
man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
1. I prescribe a quiet life at home.
2. I want you to avoid crowds.
3. Wash your hands—while singing.
4. Hoard calm—never too much of that.
5. Instead of handshakes, glances of admiration.
6. To friends nearby, write long letters.
7. Reveal your secrets now.
8. Let your compassion cross borders.
9. Guard the young, cherish the old.
10. Notice your sweet, clear breath.
11. Tend your garden.
12. To all in your kinship circle,
Hail and farewell.
After they sealed the doors and locked
the gate, after they left us mortality estimates,
on a sheet to post in the hall, after they counted
our days of water—by megaphone from outside
the perimeter—and drove away, after our desperate
questions had exhausted all our tears, after we
looked at each other, first with suspicion of contagion,
then with curiosity, and then with love, someone
found a guitar, remembered a song, and we all
got in a line, laughing arm in arm, and danced.
Kim Stafford’s “Pandemic Poems”
…many posted on Instagram at #kimstaffordpoetry…
All poems © 2020 Kim Stafford
3-7-2020 to 4-20-2020
Since the virus sent us home, I’ve been waking each morning
feeling called to speak to our predicament with a poem, and
here are some that have come to the page:
In general, it’s a good thing to be
open, gregarious in welcome, to be
the life of the party even at work
or in the streets, charismatic
bon-vivant radiating cheer.
But now, when some wear contagion-
bubbles, a six-foot radius swiveling
to rake with invisible aerosol a roving
perimeter of doom, do we wish the brave
to rule our chances?
We might weigh this bargain: to trade
freedom of the eager against the chance
some few unwitting stricken, bearing
suicide chests of virus, will mingle
as we throng again.
From what I see, it’s spring.
By dawn’s early light, fireworks
in green spangle blossoms, neighbors
stay home snug, the city’s hum stilled.
But from what I know, it’s pandemic
distilling every fight for breath
to a number in the news, while
politicians wrestle truth.
By what we wish, helpers would be
helped, money would follow need,
all would seek truth and tell it, and
we would be one nation.
By what we do, Earth will testify
the long view through change,
many learning what we need,
each voice a vote.
Bird in Hand
Walking before dawn I found, under the streetlight,
a song sparrow hunched on asphalt looking about
unafraid or somehow injured where I crouched
to see the speckled breast and up-thrust tail, twig
feet, pert eye sizing me up, then turning away.
Across the river, a train wailed south, and under lockdown
the city hummed low, chastened, as in all our thoughts
statistics swarmed, predictions bristled, cautions ruled,
and we all fed on morsels of warning as if on crumbs
until we were filled to bursting.
Under warm feathers I brought two hands together
to set down at the grassy verge, but tiny feet
climbed my sleeve whirring in a dusky blur
that brought the thought—if bats can have it,
pangolin, or tiger, why not you, my beauty,
fluttering along my arm to offer blessing
and fear in one light touch?
Pandemic Press Conference
It’s classroom style—the flag,
the lectern facing chairs in rows.
Someone’s up front, in charge
of pupils with pens at ready.
A hand goes up, teacher points.
We see this scholar did the homework.
Her question goes to the heart—but
then she’s the dunce, shamed.
Sometimes it’s grad school—the fate
of the world at stake. Sometimes it’s
kindergarten, and we all get
the lesson on bullying.
Recess never looked so good.
They inflict an infection chart—zigzag line
fevering a mountain that peaks somewhere you
can’t see.Did the air grow thin, did light brighten
to halo everything?They feed you numbers, tally
beds in ICU, count breathing machines that cross
state lines like contraband. When did heart so yearn
for touch, skin on fire?They say scrub your hands,
go forth in mask and gloves, practice distance, shelter,
lock and trust. Wasn’t I already invisible enough?
It’s no wonder, in the night your native introversion
may be magnified, as in anguish you plummet deep
into confusion, your bed turning slowly, an old LP
the needle sips for song or whimper, secret shames
and hidden loves.
Friend, embrace this distillation, seek the winnowing,
seize the essential nub of character and verve you
grew from. Shun the trappings you no longer need.
This world hungers for exactly who you are.
In mechanics, an engine’s ‘governor’
maintains a moderate speed under
fluctuating load. A driver cannot
overrule the governor.
In politics, a state’s governor
maintains the welfare of the people
as conditions change. Can a president
overrule the governor?
In life, each has a claim:
the commander commands;
the governor governs; we the people,
in order to form a more perfect union,
will moderate the two.
Time on Our Hands
in the Pandemic
Haven’t threaded through a crowd,
haven’t shaken hands in weeks.
Daydreams on the porch instead,
and seeds in garden ground.
Anyone seen the button jar?
Anyone seen the recipe box?
Think this record player works?
Wash this dish ten thousand times.
Haven’t touched a coin forever.
Haven’t plugged a parking meter.
Car all dusty gold with pollen.
How long, my list of friends.
in Hard Times
What’ll it be?
Lime with that?
Won’t stop you.
So, what’s up?
So far, so good.
Far as I can tell.
Buck up, Uncle Joe!
What do you know?
Just enough to slip a little gin
in your glass of tears.
Dandelion in sassy yellow scoffs
at concrete—seed a crack and thrive:
You gotta dig down to rise.
Knocked flat, laid low, scrawny
kid holds a secret the bully
doesn’t know:I’m gonna grow!
Salt sea struck a bargain with the moon:
Draw back, go slack, ebb deep
if you want to rise.
Tiny virus wears the crown?
Pandemic thinks it’s got us down?
We, too, will rise.
Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow
There was a time we didn’t say its name: Corona.
Or its nickname: Covid-19.Remember the time we
rambled forth, mingled, shook a stranger’s hand?
Now, behind our doors, we remember yesterday.
This is the time we scan the news for numbers—
so many stricken, so many dead. We study odds,
precautions, symptoms. We hunker down, tally our
provisions, learn who to trust, as we survive today.
There will be a time all this is yesterday—
what we suffered, what we learned, how
we chose to change. Then we will story
chronicles of kindness. We live for tomorrow.
Now’s our time to remember, live, and prophesy—
each asking, How shall we become a wiser world?
When pandemic sweeps the Earth,
the W.H.O. holds the big picture:
what is best for the good for all?
The President prefers a national view:
what is best for my citizen voters?
The Governor guards the state:
what’s right within this boundary?
The Mayor sees to the city:
how can we be together here?
And I cling to my own sovereignty:
my yard is my domain, house my castle.
But my heart feels otherwise:
what is best for the good of all—
the children, the future, the Earth?
Will We Go Back, after the Vaccine?
When I taught poetry, back in the day, we’d gather
at a school parking lot after the kids went home,
compare accounts of rush hour, delays, close calls.
If the building was locked, I’d call the janitor, he’d come
shuffling with keys, we’d get in, find our room, arrange
a circle of desks, set out food and books for browsing
or borrowing, and begin. We’d write and share—
voices, tears, and laughter.
Now we meet online. No food, no books. Instead,
we’re all in gallery view, each isolate screen showing
a grid of faces, then a poem on screen view.
We talk, go mute, and write.
Fifteen cars don’t drive across town. Fifteen parents
don’t leave their children. Some hold up a glass of wine.
One plays her viola and we weep. The stories still
rise up in our good company. We relish the writing—
our voices, tears, and laughter.
Oregon Dawn in Spite of the News
Before I can get to our statistics—so many
stricken, so many dead—I’m summoned
by the birds raising a ruckus outside, crows
and jays in festive outrage, trill, chirrr, and aria
from the little brown birds, the mournful
dove, the querulous towhee, rusty starlings
in their see-saw mutter, and a woodpecker
flicker hammering the gutter staccato.
On the porch, I’m assaulted by the merciless
scent of trees opening their million flowers,
as I inhale the deep elixir of hazel, hawthorn,
maple, and oh those shameless cherry trees.
And just when I’ve almost recovered
my serious moment, I gasp, helpless to see
the full queen moon sidling down
through a haze of blossoms.
After the Great War, the Spanish Flu
of 1918, we hungered to forget, and roared
into the 20s in wild speculation, drowning
grief and caution in drink, dance, and debt,
until the Crash of ’29 shocked us down.
Then we humbled into new ways:
thrift, compassion, pulling together
as Earth spoke in drought and dust,
and rootless refugees from failed farms
went wandering, wide-eyed in fear.
Now, a century beyond all that,
we have the Flu and Crash in one.
How shall we clarify the story problem
this time: Health, Money, Earth?
What can our 2020 vison see?
For a Daughter in Quarantine
It’s all so like a dream as in my mind I drive
the empty streets to find you across the river,
then east and north, all trees in wild blossom.
In my mind, I descend the steps to your
basement den—with food, drink, music,
we sit together, your stories and mine.
I’m old, may catch it, be gone. Or you…
or both of us. It was always possible, but
now we live in acceleration of the possible.
I always wanted your independence, and
now we have it—I here writing this,
and you there, in danger, brave.
Child, girl, woman—it’s okay.
From far, we live this day.
Many will die, orphans and survivors
going on in company with the spared. Against
this heavy darkness, how can we see virus trouble
as our school? See that our enemies are small and many,
so our remedies are small and many? We each become
a patriot of the simple life, moving less, spending less,
doing less, all loyal to the future. Each a seed in the garden
of change, we savor a breath of sky, a cup of rain,
a loaf of earth grown into sustenance.
Maybe twelve months, maybe eighteen, they say,
until vaccine becomes our graduation day, and we
go forth to build a new reality. How many lessons
will we learn by then, how many easy habits
will we no longer need? By then, we’ll need to know
how to quench our smoke, clear our sky, and not
let our old friend sun become our enemy.
This is our difficult good chance, in school
together all around the world, listening
to the children tell us:
Learn to change.
Remember how we used to do it—
weaving through the crowd, brushing
shoulders, fingers touching a sleeve,
adjusting a lapel—first an old friend here,
then turn to banter with a stranger, finding
odd connections—“You’re from where?...You
know her!”—going deeper into story, leaning
back in wonder, leaning close to whisper, secrets
hidden in the hubbub, as if in the middle of this
melee you have found a room and lit a lamp…
then the roar of the crowd comes back,
someone singing out a name, another
bowing with shriek of laughter, slap
on the back, bear hug, void
of fear? Imagine!
Spring Fever in Lock Down
School never looked so good—even waiting
for the bus in the rain. Give it to me! No seat?
I’ll stand, I’ll stumble at the turn, even fall
in someone’s lap—anyone, okay? Touch
elbow, knee, shoulder, it’s called being alive.
The warning bell? Music to my ears. Math,
history, bio lab? Love it. Backs of heads
while teach gives a power point? Beautiful.
The hall at break, lockers slamming,
every body bumping into every body?
What’s better than that, I mean really?
Better than these walls, this window.
Wish I was in class right now, staring
out the window wishing I was home.
We will lay a wreath
below the statue of the nurse
with the improvised mask. We will
all sing from balconies, and dance
like Iranian doctors feeling the music
in spite of all. At Arlington—flowers
on the grave of the unknown homeless
refugee, found alone in an alley in L.A.
At evening, we will gather to shelter
in place, grateful to share the simple food
of those days, looking into each other’s
eyes to tell our legends of kindness,
generosity, connection, and of
the research team who gave
their patent to the world.
Tasks of the Laid-Off Worker
Stay home. Lie low. Get by.
Sleep in. Watch news. Brew tea.
Hang tough. Call friends. Make plans.
Cinch belt. Pay bills. Count down.
Cook rice. Wash dish. Lick spoon.
Bow low. Pray hard. Breathe deep.
Have hope. Lose hope. Make hope.
Watch rain. Check clock. Lie down.
Hold on. Hum song. Have dreams.
Trust time. Let go. Keep faith.
For Happy Hour, we clink our glasses
to the tiny eye above the screen—
white wine looming into view:
“To your health!”
Twelve little windows gather the family
like Thanksgiving for a sweet cacophony
chorus in our babbling flock all at once:
“What’s going on for you?!”
In gallery view, we wear funny hats
for grandma at 97 locked down
in the care facility, and all together:
“Hats off to you!”
For Layla, age four and three
thousand miles away, who can’t help
dancing with her young verve, we sing—
“You got me on my knees, Layla!”