Pandemic poems 3 (May 6 to 17):

(On Instagram with photos at #kimstaffordpoetry

                  Seek the Source


To gulp rumor, bucket saltwater from the sea.


To drink front page news, top stories, facts,

dip your glass in the river flowing through the valley.


For something finer, for meaning filtered through

your own considered thought, shadowed by trees, cup

water to your mouth from the mountain stream.


But the real trick is to bow on hands and knees

at the alpine spring and sip truth straight

at broken stone where it spills so cold

your mind burns, your heart hums.


How to do that? You will find a way.



             Keynote by Zoom


Instead of a distant figure at the podium

I’ll be a talking head on speaker view.

Instead of listener rows in business casual,

my people will be home—some in robe

and slippers, petting the dog, holding a child.


In our pandemic, if I’m tempted to get all

high and mighty, they can mute me,

which is good. And I can tap gallery view

and we’re all equal—beautiful faces

around the fire, looking down, looking 


away, looking within. Friends, help me. 

Though scattered and alone, we are here

together. Our lives are knit in one convening

linked by all this mystic apparatus so I 

can say to you, “Let’s begin with silence….”



         News from the Interior


Something makes you lower the paper

and gaze out your window at the dark rain

as you apprehend how hard to get the real story

from the cave you came from, waking early.

All you have, in fact, is clues—dreams or

fears, instinct or twinge yearning from within.

How can you trust word or thought, if deaf 

to that feral music in the mind behind it all:


a lonely wail you can almost hear, thrum

too low to know but impossible to deny? 

Doesn’t the invisible inaudible call the shots?

Didn’t the virus bring one more confirmation

of the power of the unseen? Isn’t this what

keeps you humble when first light in the trees

brings tears, or a face, even blurred, distant,

nameless on the front page, catches breath?


Something that happened is still happening

inside, behind, before you can speak or act…

a lost child lifting water to the lips.



           Photographers We Need


Whose lens can be Mathew Brady’s for this war,

unafraid to show us twisted bodies after battle?

Who dare be this pandemic’s Dorothea Lange

to reveal the tragic face of a mourning mother?

Which Walker Evans will dare dwell in poverty

so dire its children’s faces are the only light?

And which Robert Capa will roam this land

to show us who we really are?


Instead, we’re given, on repeat, the president’s

unmasked face…a store with empty shelves…

vacant rush-hour streets…citizens in separate safety 

cheering nurses—all true, but not the whole truth. 


If we can’t see behind this veil, how can we 

ever know how utterly we need to change?



                The Big Picture


In the big picture, thousands have died

and the news clatters with dire prophecies.

In the little picture, you wake yet feeling well—

still dark out, sleepy robin, soft rain.


The virus, tiny and many, could be everywhere:

glimmering a doorknob, and gilding subway walls.

Is it small, or vast? Ephemeral or lasting long?

Does it evolve to overwhelm, or fade away?


The long story includes your one clear breath

where you step outside to savor dawn’s early light,

the sky curving weather over Earth, while you bow 

to find one bud opening to clasp a raindrop.


Our future roots deep in the lost unknown.

Are you ready to sip the rain?





When we lived in trees, when we looked down

on lions by starlight, one thing we knew for sure: 

We will never sleep on the earth—never….

thinking in our monkey minds: That would be insane.


Later, we sat around the fire telling, telling, and we knew: 

We will never hold a story in hand, scratched with 

charcoal on a leaf—how could that be? Never….

never, never to know secrets of our ancestors


We knew that something an old woman does who has

lost her mind, or a child living in her own world, playing 

with nonsense, wasting daylight, darkening her hands.

What does she think she knows we don’t?


Now we have books, phones, weapons and war, 

hate and fear, looking down on another until all are slaves. 

We know we’ll never have peace—never, never….

How can what has never been, be?


Meanwhile our children, above us in their treehouse, 

provisions stowed, ladder pulled up, have a plan.



      Two Ways to See It


At best, a vaccine’s years away—

what we gonna do til then?

We’ve been here before—plague,

pestilence. We got through.


Yeah, we got out of the Great

Depression, too, but it took a war.

The whole world’s working on this.

Doctors, nurses—they don’t quit.


The Earth has a fever, too. Terrorism,

hunger, tyranny. What about all that?

You know, while we’re here

talking, good work could be done.



            Mother’s Day


Mother’s kisses were for faces

before she baked them into loaves

to make us strong. Three sixty four

she was our servant—to earn

a morning’s flowers and a card.


At first, she sang us into sleep

before her days were lost for wages

to raise us up. Ninety seven

were her summers—to gain

a service and a song.


Alive, her many graces gathered 

friends who told us, after, she was 

an impish saint, her laugh like bells,

her glance a flame. Now we wander

far, as she kisses with the rain.





Who are these numbers, tallied in your news,

numbers used to build statistic stairways

on charts, to climb in increments, then

swoop up steep to seek pandemic’s peak?


Behind your numbers, give me names and 

show me faces. Tell me where they lived,

what part of town, prison, or ravine. I need 

the avalanche of eulogies that surely will begin: 


He was old…As a child in Mexico…Before

she went to prison…Homeless seven years…

Housekeeper…Custodian…Grocery Clerk…

Warehouse Worker…Field Hand….


Before you sweep aside their truth with your

parade of numbers, I need to see behind

the statistician’s mask, to hear tear-filled 

stories by those who loved them, one by one.


Give me names and faces—brown, white-haired,

refugee, Navaho, inmate, honest, old, loved, faces

of the lost, faces from the streets—before you 

dare proclaim it’s time America get back to work.





At dawn, you rise into birdsong.

By the news, you dive into statistics.

Greeting another, you stand in affection.

For hardship, suffering, grief, you bow low.


Stroke by stroke with a swimmer’s rhythm

you curl then stretch, crumple then reach, 

give up and take heart, know the news 

and hear the song.



            If what once was easy…


Once we could say, Shake on it, and the deal 

was done. Scratchmy back, I’ll scratch yours,

and we could be animals together. Back slap, 

bear hug, fond embrace—we had this repertoire 

of affection that now could risk death, so

we have to re-invent the ordinary.


Once we were children, standing stunned before 

the tableaux complexity of grown-up doings:

going solo for job, money, car, house, insurance, 

debt, partner—hiding sorrow, deferring joy, finding 

some hidden box of magic tools for getting by. 


Now we have a chance to be that young again, 

to be beginners in our daily practice, in our

long view, some new maturity that asks

what is of need in fact. If what once was easy,

now is not, we turn toward the difficult.

This time, re-frame the world.

Kim Stafford workshops…              






Kim Stafford online generative writing workshops

July 2020 to February 2021




Citizen Poems: Writing Poetry for the Human Project

“The more I write poems,” said Elizabeth Woody, “the less it’s about what the poem is, and more about who the poem serves.” Writing can be a habit that enriches the individual life, and publishing can bring this enrichment to others, and perhaps lead to money and fame. Or—writing and sharing work composed as a gift of advocacy for your heroes, for places, and for communities—this form of creative devotion could be your true vocation. In this workshop, open to writers at all stages of experience, we will explore the notion of “citizen poems,” which are written not abouta subject, but fora person, a place, a cause, a community. We will practice writing little anthems, manifestoes, and blessings.


hosted by Willamette Writers / one-day class / Thursday, July 30, 9:30am-3:30pm

(third workshop listed)




Earth Verse

When trouble comes in the human world, there may be a little story from the wild that can offer consolation. From the Gnomic Versesin Old English, to the Tao te Ching, and the writings of Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, and Mary Oliver, we have cherished lyric remedies speaking the language of earth for human comfort. In this workshop, we will harvest close observations from the Playa landscape and compose an archive of consolations for use as our need comes.


hosted by Playa at Summer Lake / Saturday-Sunday, August 1-2, 9am-3pm

Details here soon:




Pandemic Diary for Earth

In the Corona Virus era, someone said, It's as if Earth has sent us to our rooms to think about what we've done. Out of this time, how might our lives become more measured, local, and sustaining? In this online workshop, we'll write episodes of observation and thought about how this era of shelter in place might temper our frenzy, and turn us toward better ways to live. We'll compose poems, stories, letters, and other forms to offer lament, ways to savor the simpler life, and prophecy about where we might go from here as individuals, and as citizens of Earth.


hosted by Sitka Center for Art & Ecology, Saturday-Sunday / August 8-9, 10am-4pm

Details here soon:



Pandemic Poems for Lament, Solace, & Testimony

This is a one-day generative poetry workshop. Drawing on short readings from writers who have addressed pandemics—Giovanni Boccaccio, Daniel Defoe, Albert Camus, and writers addressing our predicament now—we will write poems to report personal experience, interrogate the public narrative, honor what’s lost, and celebrate what’s been clarified. The pandemic has hit the re-set button on our individual lives, our communities and our nation. Pandemic poems can re-frame what we now know we need, don’t need, and must envision. 


hosted by Richard Hugo House / date TBA (one day workshop)

Details here soon:



Courage to Lead through Writing: We Begin a Better Nation through Writing

Join us for a virtual Courage to Lead retreat designed to offer participants the time and space to reflect on the complex, challenging, and changing dimensions of leadership, rooted in the belief that effective leadership flows from the identity and integrity of the individual. Empower and deepen your leadership during these challenging times by using writing as a tool for learning and leading.


hosted by Lewis & Clark College, Thursday 4pm – Saturday at noon / October 1-3




Daily Writing in the Spirit of William Stafford

In a time when wars don’t stop, when pandemic strikes, jobs end, climate shifts, and life needs constant reinvention, your daily writing practice can be a way to navigate change and sustain the spirit.

     Inspired by the 50-year writing practice of William Stafford, this online workshop will include reading of classic poems and responding to writing prompts designed to deepen your own process for creation.

     We will delve into sources for starting, ways of revising, responding to work in progress, and sending forth our testimony to a world hungry for meaning. Open to all levels of experience.

     The class will utilize the online platform Zoom, with each of the two days designed as a series of conversations, writing prompts, solo writing time, then sharing and discussion.


hosted by Lewis & Clark College, Saturday-Sunday, December  5-6, 9am-5pm




Oregon Writing Project: Poems for a Better Nation

In these days of frenzy and confusion, some bit of news, a scrap of story, a friend’s question, or some other morsel of language from the world may long to become a song, a poem, half a poem—may long to catch something mysterious about this life. A footnote to the inexpressible.

     In this online Oregon Writing Project course, we will celebrate the winsome habit of poetry to turn small discoveries into the half-page where we say much in a few words.

We’ll read lively texts, start many lyric experiments, and talk along the way about how to use this quirky and welcoming writing practice to calm the self, and to explore with students and share with friends.

     No previous experience is necessary for participation in this course, which is open to all teachers and writers. The class will utilize the online platform Zoom, with each of the two days designed to develop a learning community through a series of conversations, writing prompts, solo writing time, then sharing and discussion.


hosted by Lewis & Clark College, Saturday-Sunday, February 20-21, 9am-5pm




Later in 2021              


January or February, week-long Writing Retreat in Guanajuato, Mexico


February 11-14, 2021 (tentative date), Writing Retreat at Santa Sabina, San Rafael, California


April 21-30, 2021, week-long Writing Retreat in Ireland



May 2021,  week-long Writing Retreat in Assisi, Italy