Pandemic Coffee

    Restoration Ritual

 

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?

 

Self reliance

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.

 

Buoyancy

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.

 

Friendship

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.

 

Thought

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.

 

Dreams

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.

 

Thrift

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.

 

Love

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.

 

Maintenance

Health. Rest. Calm. Breath. Patience. Affection. Humor. Active hope.

 

 

 

             Old Familiar

 

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

 

1. 

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!

 

2.

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.

So far.

 

 

 

               Good News

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

                    Doing Nothing

 

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.

 

 

 

          Exponential

 

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.

 

 

 

            Worry

 

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

your blessings? 

 

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

the restoration.

 

 

 

 

          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.

                              —Blaise Pascal

 

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.

 

 

 

                  In Quarantine

 

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:

 

 

           Opening Up

 

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.

 

 

 

Differential

 

1.

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.

 

2. 

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.

 

 

 

                        Introvertigo

 

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.

 

 

               Governor

 

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.

 

Happy Hour 

in Hard Times

 

What’ll it be?

     Saltwater.

Lime with that?

     Won’t stop you.

 

So, what’s up?

     So far, so good.

Everybody well?

     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.

 

 

 

                   Rise

 

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?

 

 

 

     Concentric Jurisdiction

 

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.

 

 

 

                New Deal

 

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.

 

 

                    Training Ground

 

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.

 

 

                Mingling

 

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! 

Just 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.

 

 

     Vaccination Day

 

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. 

 

 

 

          Pandemic Zoom

 

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!”