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 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…
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.