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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.

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