A Portfolio of Poems

This page is an invitation to enjoy a sanctuary for the spirit.

The poems and prayers are a refuge of words which both give voice to the experience of living in our time, and a sense of being connected to others in their experience. The spiritual practices are an invitation to use your body as a vehicle for connecting with a deep place within yourself, a place to discover your own deep well of consolation and courage, gratitude and peace.

Many of these resources have been provided by islanders -- your neighbors and friends -- since the coronavirus descended upon us.

I Was Never Able To Pray

Wheel me down to the shore
where the lighthouse was abandoned
and the moon tolls in the rafters.

Let me hear the wind paging through the trees
and see the stars flaring out, one by one,
like the forgotten faces of the dead.

I was never able to pray,
but let me inscribe my name
in the book of waves

and then stare into the dome
of a sky that never ends
and see my voice sail into the night.

By Edward Hirsch, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

HOPE

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
  it shakes sleep from its eyes
  and drops from mushroom gills,
    it explodes in the starry heads
    of dandelions turned sages,
      it sticks to the wings of green angels
      that sail from the tops of maples.
 
It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
  it lives in each earthworm segment
  surviving cruelty,
    it is the motion that runs
    from the eyes to the tail of the dog,
      it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
      of the child that has just been born.
 
It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.
 
It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak. 

by Lisel Mueller, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

NOW I PRAY

Ashen face, wool hat bobbing,
the young boy’s eyes dart to me,
then up at the man pulling a rolling
suitcase, whose hand he holds,
then back at me. His legs move
as if without gravity. The man asks:
Do you know a church on this street
that serves free food? I want to say
I know. That the names of churches
on an Avenue called Americas roll
out of me. I want to tell you
it is temporary, their condition:
suitcase, darting eyes, seeking free
food at 9 pm in a big city on a school night.
I want to tell you I don’t for a moment
wonder if that is really the boy’s father
or uncle or legitimate caretaker — 
something in the handholding and
eyes, having watched too many
episodes of Law and Order. I want
to tell you I take them to a restaurant
and pay for a warm meal or empty
my wallet not worrying how
offensive that might be because
in the end hunger is hunger.
I want to tell you I call someone
who loves them — that there is someone — 
and say your guys are lost, can
you come? I want to tell you I sit
down on the sidewalk at the corner
of Waverly and pray — that all
passing by, anonymous shoes
marking the pavement, join
in a chorus of prayer humming
like cicadas in the Delta. I want to
tell you the boy and the man eat food
encircled by the warmth of bodies.
I want to turn the cold night into a feast.
I will tell you I am praying.

By Kathy Engel, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon island

blessing the old white guys

(at home in quarantine)

may the certainty
of your perception give way
to wonder. May you seek
surprise. May you release all
the answers to life’s unasked
questions.
may you give rise
to curiosity
and May it blow
  through you
like a breeze

may you listen
to the solitude of not-knowing.
may you return to the source -
your mother. Give voice to
the gratitude you have always
wanted to share - before you
were taught that grasping everything
mattered more than grace.

By Janie Starr, Vashon Island

As Though the Word Blue
Had Been Dropped
into the Water

The running stream
    is fragrant.
On the bank, in the shadows,
a small yellow flower
    with sunlight at its feet
    puts my life together.

The little bird that is
    going to heal me
is hopping around in the bushes.


By Robert Sund, offered by Ann Spiers, Vashon Island

A Country Called Kindness

I ask the President of the United States——what or who do you love?
I imagine him there with the pastel blue carpet in the Oval Office, masturbating.
When he looks at his phone, his Favorites-is his daughter the only one, his wife, his son?
Where does he cry?
What golden picture frames are by his bedside, which moments of reverence, connection and belonging
does he hold sacred?
What ARE his nightmares?
Does he sleep naked or in an old, soft t shirt, alone? Why is he angry?

He was once a young, hopeful boy.
I imagine him on a hot, summer afternoon at the Central Park Pond.
The controls of the rental sailboat held in his palms like a baby bird.
The wind pushing his craft across the water and he is smiling with delight.
Nearby, in a country called Kindness, another boy in the same checked shirt and brown leather
shoes, stands beside his grandfather laughing and holding hands.
Donald, twisting in his place, perhaps feels the shame of his aloneness,
imagining the impossibility of a shared cotton candy or merry-go-round, his
Oompa no longer there now, His absence felt like the size of a tanker.
The black abyss existing across
He-who-always-knew-how-to-handle-any-question-or-emergency,
leading his grandson with an iron fist and soft heart.
He loved the golden boy, was his captain and champion.
Sat in the day-blind sun for every game, tirelessly taught him the rules of gin rummy, read aloud
Watership Down in the evenings.
Young Donald wonders what makes this other boy so lovable that his grandfather fought death for him?
Wandering home across the streets of Queens he looks for signs.
He shapes himself slowly and precisely to that other boy—a word here—a laugh there,
Until, he becomes something unrecognizable to himself, only as a worthy trophy to others.
The golden boy hero, grows only neglected and unseen,
deteriorating by the pond
like a dropped hot dog bun quickly scavenged, eaten by pigeons and crows.
No tears were shed for that loss of innocence or eulogy written for the forgotten boy.
Turning the brass knob on the door that day, arriving home to the vacant room, silence screaming in his ears,
young Donald read the note on the kitchen counter, next to the peanut butter sandwich
crusts removed and felt nothing.
Now, the old statesman, a fighter, body misshapen from years of neglect and hard living,
a looming figure, his sprit under resourced, unsupported.
Abandoned himself.
No limit to where he can warp, persistent, dedicated to some unseeable horizon.
Telling us our darkest desires and longings are acceptable—normal even.
A crumbling revelation, an eruption of the suppressed.
The line between waking and dreaming blurring through Oompa and ships at half mast
the brass doorknob, the golden eagle,
his young daughter, the Oval Office, and the mismatched geometry of the American spirit.
The never-ending work.
His navy blue creased trousers now around his ankles and black, shined, shoes hidden,
And what does he do when he shits?

Play golf on an app or Tweet what he likes to hear from Fox News from a hotel bathroom,
accompanied by the seal of the president of our nation.
“THIS IS NOT A HOAX. I am sometimes afraid and imperfect.”
I think of the way his Oompa cherished him, this golden boy,
and I, alone in the room of my heart, Tweet back:
“You are worthy of love, you are brave, I love you too, Donald”

By Heather Timken, Vashon Island

Trying to Pray

This time, I have left my body behind me, crying
In its dark thorns.
Still,
There are good things in this world.
It is dusk.
It is the good darkness
Of women's hands that touch loaves.
The spirit of a tree begins to move.
I touch leaves.
I close my eyes and think of water.

By James Wright

Fear

It is said that before entering the sea,
a river trembles with fear.
She looks back at the path she has travelled,
from the peaks of the mountains, the long winding road crossing forests and
villages.

And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.
But there is no other way.
The river cannot go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that's where the river will know
it's not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

By Khalil Gibran

The Good News

They don't publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Daydream

One day people will touch and talk perhaps easily,
And loving be natural as breathing and warm as sunlight,
And people will untie themselves, as string is unknotted,
Unfold and yawn and stretch and spread their fingers,
Unfurl, uncurl like seaweed returned to the sea,
And work will be simple and swift as a seagull flying,
And play will be casual and quiet as a seagull settling,
And the clocks will stop, and no one will wonder or care or notice,
And people will smile without reason, even in winter, even in the rain.

By A. S. J. Tessimond

Let America be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!

I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

By Langston Hughes


Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field

By Langston Hughes, submitted by Carla Pryne, Maury Island

When Friends are your family

Beneath a canopy of
green
Standing tall as if
alone
Beneath the ground all trees
reach out
Unseen by us to weave their
roots
Their roots connect and share the
rain
Telling each other of coming
danger
Knowing that dry spells bring on
death
Their forest community
extends
Beyond each tree’s young shoots and
starts
And does not judge by age or
species
In forming networks, branch and
vein
To pass on secrets, food and
life

by Lynn Carrigan, Vashon Island, March 27, 2020

Poem from "Peace is Everything in its Right Power"

The satisfaction of white paper
in front of me, pen scratching
ink across the page
as I gradually let go of
the rest of the world.

The joy of sitting next to you
here in our living room
with books and tables and lamps
and paintings and orange star lilies
on an ordinary day of love.

by Terry Martin, Yakima

life behind the mask
a certain kind of freedom
a one way mirror

by Shirley Ferris, Vashon Island

The Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Fear comes at the edge of my dreams,
With images of failed this and forgotten that,
Of being the fool, of letting others down,
Of the mouse that is caught by a big fat cat.

And when my heart’s thumping
And my head’s threatening to burst,
I must look fear in the face
And make it give first.

In times like this when I need a guide
To get me past my foolish fear,
I conjure the ruby humming bird
The one that flies without any gear.

On the Yucatan shore they gather up
Prepared to expend the winter’s fat.
Summoned to act by the north-blowing wind
They cross the Gulf without a map.

No gps here, no satellite help,
Just leaping off across the sea,
The humming wings do beat and beat
To bring them back for me to see

What fear must the buzzing bird face
When it sets out across the water?
For if you fall or miss your mark,
There is no tree in which to loiter.

So when facing the virus day after day
I know I will have to do my best,
So, I think of the mighty ruby-throat
And quickly put my fear to rest.

If this little squirt can do what it does
Then I can certainly do my part.
So I’ll take my lead from the mighty mite
And accept an infusion to my heart.

by Jim Blackburn, Houston, Texas, 2020

Vespers

And at the end of the day
when every rock on the west
claims a fragment of the sun,
a last bird comes, wing and
then wing over the valley
and over the valley, and home.

Till unbound by our past we sing
wherever we go, ready or not,
stillness above and below, the slowed
evening carried in prayer toward the end.
You know who you are:
This is for you, my friend.

by William Stafford

Blossom

What is a wound but a flower
dying on its descent to the earth,
bag of scent filled with war, forest,
torches, some trouble that befell
now over and done. A wound is a fire
sinking into itself. The tinder 
serves only so long, the log holds on
and still it gives up, collapses
into its bed of ashes and sand. I burned
my hand cooking over a low flame,
that flame now alive under my skin,
the smell not unpleasant, the wound
beautiful as a full-blown peony.
Say goodbye to disaster. Shake hands
with the unknown, what becomes
of us once we’ve been torn apart
and returned to our future, naked
and small, sewn back together
scar by scar.

by Dorianne Laux, sent by Merna Hecht, Vashon

The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand 
that this, too, was a gift.

By Mary Oliver




The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

By Wendell Berry

planting carrots ~
I kneel at the altar of
ordinary life

by Shirley Ferris, Vashon

The Mystery of Meteors

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park 
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds 
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead 
Leonid's brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read 
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me 
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss, 
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer, 
open windows, find beads to string with pearls 
You would not think that I had survived 
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air 
She has been alone, she has known danger, 
and so now she watches for it always 
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes. 
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly, 
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly, 
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning 
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me 
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward: Come Armageddon, come fire or flood, 
come love, not love, millennia of portents-- 
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing 
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

by Eleanor Lerman, 
offered by Claudia Hollander-Lucas

Virtuosi

In memory of my parents

People whose lives have been shaped
by history—and it is always tragic—
do not want to talk about it,
would rather dance, give parties
on thrift-shop china. You feel
wonderful in their homes,
two leaky rooms, nests
they stowed inside their hearts
on the road into exile.
They know how to fix potato peelings
and apple cores so you smack your lips.
 
The words start over again
hold no terror for them.
Obediently they rise
and go with only a rucksack
or tote bag. If they weep,
it’s when you’re not looking.
 
To tame their nightmares, they choose
the most dazzling occupations,
swallow the flames in the sunset sky,
jump through burning hoops
in their elegant tiger suits.
Cover your eyes: there’s one
walking on a thread
thirty feet above us—
shivering points of light
leap across her body,
and she works without a net.

By Lisel Mueller , offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

Blessing the boats

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

by Lucille Clifton, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island



In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking, it is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn

by Stanley Kunitz, excerpt from “The Testing Tree”, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

EYES WIDE OPEN

The little olive-skinned girl
peered up at me
from the photograph

with her eyes wide open,

deep brown beautiful eyes
that bore silent witness
to a grief as old as the ages.

She was young,
and very beautiful, as only
the young can be,
but within such beauty
as bears calamity silently:

because it has run out of tears.

I closed the magazine and went
outside to the wood pile
and split a couple of logs, thinking,
“Her fire is likely
an open fire tonight,
bright flames licking
and waving

like rising pennants in the breeze.”

When I was a boy,
I heard about the bloodshed
in Korea, about the Red Army
perched at our threshold,
and the bombs
that would annihilate our world
forever.

I got under my desk with the rest of the foolish world.

In Okinawa, I wore the uniform
and carried the weapon
until my eyes began to open,
until I choked
on Marine Corps pride,
until I came to realize
just how willfully I had been blind.

How much grief is a life?
And what can be done unless
we stand among the missing, among the murdered,
the orphaned,
our own armed children, and bear witness

with our eyes wide open?

When I was a child, frightened of the night
and crying in my bed,
my father told me a poem or sang,

“Empty saddles in the o-l-d corral,
where do they r-i-d-e tonight.”

Homer thought the dead arrived
into a field of asphodels.
“Musashino,” near Tokyo, means
“Musashi’s Plain,”
the warrior’s way washed in blood.
The war-songs are sung
to the same old marching measures—
oh, how we love to honor the dead.

A world without war? Who but a child or a fool
could imagine such a thing?

Corporate leaders go to school
on Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
“We all deplore it,” the President says,
issuing bombing orders,
“but God is on our side.”

Which blood is Christian,
which Muslim, Jew or Hindu?

The beautiful girl with the beautiful sad eyes
watches, but
has not spoken. What can she

possibly say?
She carries the burden of finding
another way.

In her eyes, the ruins, the fear,
the shoes that can’t be filled, hands
that will never stroke her hair.

But listen. And you will hear her small, soft, plaintive voice
—it’s already there within you—

a heartbeat, a whisper,
a promise broken—
if only you listen

with your eyes wide open.

By Sam Hamill. Offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island.

Book Launch

Nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine
red robins flood in over the madronas,
the glossy leaves brightened by red berries,
and the flock dismantling the heavy yield.
Soon the ten thousandth bird flies in;
red robins flood in over the madronas,
the glossy leaves brightened by red berries,
and the flock dismantling the heavy yield.
they all lift, wing sound and chirp cascading

across the dull sky. I am on a folding chair
behind you, the winter sun blinding us
as its glare slides in and out the hemlock boughs.
You turn to me from your seat, and I ask you
how it is, and you avert your face. The wind drops.
Ashamed I asked—The time was wrong.

Should I change the topic? I am seated comfortably,
settled into easy months, alive on the incoming
vortex of robins. Again you look at me,
your eyes blink, their closing and opening
signaling that you want to stay the sun and fling
it back into the year turning on a sorrowful axis.

Like Emily Dickinson, we record our poems
on paper handy to us, and like Emily, we bind
the pages with baker’s twine, twisted red and white.
We exchange our books, inscribed with the date,
our record of where we sit, where we are.
We use ink luminous, wet, and long to dry.

by Ann Spiers, Vashon Island

Three Pigeons

All of the writing on the back of my hand, chicken scratch now in the morning light,
washed clean from something yesterday about calendula, remote medical training and transitional
housing from prison, and maybe regret

This bag of skin and entangled gray matter that shifts mutable like a shadow as I try
to imagine the-I- in its midst, that we walk through this world hearing the piercing sound of the flicker,
“clear” like a bell to prayer

It is not mine to evaluate if it is good or meaningful, we are here but once, today I begin again.

Saying thank you to the doctors, firefighters, building imaginary flower mandalas
outside the assisted living facilities shouting thank you to the nurses, bringing
water and fresh cut daffodils to the graves, I imagine myself counting the pigeons,
one, serenading the food bank manager who sat down, just for a moment,
two for the ambulance driver crying only when her shift was over,
three for my mother in law unaware of it all in her own lost array of endless
television, searching for a story of meaning like that we are resisting living now

I am holding the mane tight, a necessity, tighter than must feel good, the reigns
loose in my hands, mostly awkward, with 20 second moments of wonder, the grace of
this thousand-pound gelding willing to tolerate my learning,

can I be that generous with myself, that patient?

this day in bright white light, the round pen just watered,

the evergreens witness my vulnerability, his generosity, my joints agile enough to feel the sway,
a small momentary glimpse, my instructor says, “are your eyes open?”

yes, they are, seeing the flowers, the grocery store clerks, the bus drivers, counting the pigeons,
unable to read the writing on my hand but feeling the warm wide girth under my leg, I forgive
myself once again, sit a beat and squeeze my heels, a secret message between us, to walk on.

By Heather Timken, Vashon Island

Lighting Our Way

There was a place
where I once jumped
in between rhymes
of a double-dutch rope,
a sidewalk, chalked in colors
leading to sky blue,
a blue bicycle
where I knew how fast
I could pedal,
where my legs understood
how to take me home,
swift and unafraid.

What if we each swung a secret
lantern through any darkness
showing us the way back
to the tingling of dusk
as only children know it,
just before night thickens
with the first firefly
in our cradled hands,

I want to believe
it would help us remember
how to light our way.

By Merna Ann Hecht, Vashon Island, 2020

My Soul Has a Hat

I counted my years and realized that I have less
time to live by, than I have lived so far.
I feel like a child who won a pack of candies: at
first he ate them with pleasure but when he
realized that there was little left, he began to taste
them intensely.

I have no time for endless meetings where the
statutes, rules, procedures and internal
regulations are discussed, knowing that nothing
will be done.

I no longer have the patience to stand absurd
people who, despite their chronological age, have
not grown up.
My time is too short: I want the essence; my spirit
is in a hurry. I do not have much candy in the
package anymore.

I want to live next to humans, very realistic people
who know how to laugh at their mistakes and who
are not inflated by their own triumphs and who
take responsibility for their actions. In this way,
human dignity is defended and we live in truth and
honesty. It is the essentials that make life useful.

I want to surround myself with people who know
how to touch the hearts of those whom hard
strokes of life have learned to grow with sweet
touches of the soul.

Yes, I'm in a hurry. I'm in a hurry to live with the
intensity that only maturity can give.
I do not intend to waste any of the remaining
desserts. I am sure they will be exquisite, much
more than those eaten so far.

My goal is to reach the end satisfied and at peace
with my loved ones and my conscience.
We have two lives and the second begins when
you realize you only have one.

by Mário de Andrade

I know a cure for sadness:
Let your hands touch something that
makes your eyes
smile.

I bet there are a hundred objects close by
that can do that.

Look at
beauty's gift to us —
her power is so great she enlivens
the earth, the sky, our
soul.

By Mirabai Starr

A dragon was pulling a bear into its terrible mouth.

A courageous man went and rescued the bear.
There are such helpers in the world,
who rush to save
anyone who cries out. Like Mercy itself,
they run toward the screaming.

And they can't be bought off.
If you were to ask one of those, "Why did you come
so quickly?" He or she would say, "Because I heard
your helplessness."

Where lowland is,
that's where water goes. All medicine wants
is pain to cure.

And don't just ask for one mercy.
Let them flood in. Let the sky open under your feet.
Take the cotton out of your ears, the cotton
of consolations, so you can hear the sphere-music. . . .

Give your weakness
to One Who Helps.

Crying out loud and weeping are great resources.
A nursing mother, all she does
is wait to hear her child.

Just a little beginning-whimper,
and she's there.

God created the child, that is, your wanting,
so that it might cry out, so that milk might come.

Cry out! Don't be stolid and silent
with your pain. Lament! And let the milk
of Loving flow into you.

The hard rain and wind
are ways the cloud has
to take care of us.

Be patient.
Respond to every call
that excites your spirit.

Ignore those that make you fearful
and sad, that degrade you
back toward disease and death.

— Jelaluddin Rumi in Mathnawi II (lines 1932-1942, 1950 - 1960)translated by Coleman Barks

American Oystercatcher 2

I walk to the banks of Christmas Bay
And launch my kayak for a long slow ride
To the future,
To a place where life and all livings things
Are special, are revered, are sanctified,
A place where we live by principles
That give all life a chance to survive,
A chance to realize the potential
That emerged from the Big Bang
(Or the creation if you prefer),
An event that brought forth you and me
 And all forms of life on this living planet.

I come back to the bay, to the moment,
And realize I have been talking
Aloud to an oyster reef
About this imagined, spiritual future,
About this potential of my species
That could result from changes
Currently underway but yet to come,
And in this moment of realization,
I see that an oystercatcher has been listening
From his place amidst the living shells,
Lifting As a sign of recognition,
his neon orange beak
Giving me a knowing nod
Of his chocolate brown head,
Winking his golden eye and
Whispering to me “Yeah Buddy”.

By Jim Blackburn, Houston, Texas, 2020

Looking Up

The unsheltered ones lie in a pink bed of magnolia petals
Ephemeral beings already browning at the edges
Among spent flower casings like fuzzy fairy moccasins
The tree viewed from below—
Its wanton, splayed blooms silkscreened to the sky
Could be the surface of a pond
Blossoms strung between branches as the tangled intimacy of water lilies

By Kathryn True, Vashon Island, April 2020



Today, When I Could Do Nothing

Today, when I could do nothing,
I saved an ant.

It must have come in with the morning paper,
still being delivered
to those who shelter in place.

A morning paper is still an essential service.

I am not an essential service.

I have coffee and books,
time,
a garden,
silence enough to fill cisterns.

It must have first walked
the morning paper, as if loosened ink
taking the shape of an ant.

Then across the laptop computer — warm —
then onto the back of a cushion.

Small black ant, alone,
crossing a navy cushion,
moving steadily because that is what it could do.

Set outside in the sun,
it could not have found again its nest.
What then did I save?

It did not move as if it was frightened,
even while walking my hand,
which moved it through swiftness and air.

Ant, alone, without companions,
whose ant-heart I could not fathom —
how is your life, I wanted to ask.

I lifted it, took it outside.

This first day when I could do nothing,
contribute nothing
beyond staying distant from my own kind,
I did this.

By Jane Hirschfield, 2020

A poem written by the Prime Minister of New Zealand

Rest now, e Papatuanaku (Mother Earth)
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
For awhile.

We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.

I wish we could say
we were doing it for you
as much as for ourselves
But hei aha
We’re doing it anyway.
It’s right. It’s time.

Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgment
Time to cry
Time to think
About others
Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
Gentle palms.

Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans
and the sky full of rain
Finally, it’s raining!
Ka Turururu te wai kamo oRangi ki runga I a koe
(Maori phrase meaning – “tears from the eyes of
Ranginui drip down on you”

Ranginui is our sky father,
it is common to refer to rain as
the tears of Rangi for his beloved,
from whom he was separated
at the beginning of time
in order that there could be light in the world).
Embrace it

This sacrifice of solitude we have carved out for you
He iti noaiho – a small offering which is a treasure
People always said it wasn’t possible
To ground flights and stay home
and stop our habits of consumption
But it was
It always was.

We were just afraid of how much it was going to
hurt
--and it IS hurting and it will hurt and continue to
hurt
But not as much as you have been hurt.
So be still now
Wrap your hills around our absence
Loosen the concrete belt
cinched tight at your waist.
--Rest.
--Breathe.
--Recover.
--Heal
And we will do the same.

By Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

Angel Sisters

An angel whispers
in my ear,
her words so soft
I know she’s near,
ever patient
ever clear
she beckons me
to stay, to hear.

An Angel lingers
round my heart,
she feels my lonely
soul apart,
yet, gentle wisdom
holds her nigh
to raise me up
to Love on high.

An Angel lives
inside my core
quiet, steadfast
calm and sure.
Streams of Light
are anchored here,
they guide me safe
to home’s sweet shore.

An Angel waits
inside my mind,
she yearns for me
to know, to find
the special star
that spins and twirls
the golden threads
my life, my pearls.

Angel sisters
stay by me,
humming tunes
to set me free,
for Divine Truth
says we’re all one
to love and live
beneath the sun.

by Anne Mason

Becoming An Angel

Angels sat on the park bench
watching the man eating a ham sandwich,
not the best, not the worst
He didn’t take up much room
trying to be the best sandwich eater.
Larch trees were yellowing in the park.
Some needles were flying his way .
Wiping mustard off his face, he moved
over to make room for the needles and

he was in.

by C. Hunter Davis, Vashon Island

have we always
seen red winged blackbirds...
heard the wren’s love song?

by Shirley Ferris, Vashon Island

The Miracle of Morning

I thought I’d awaken to a
world in mourning.
Heavy clouds crowding, a
society storming.

But there’s something
different on this golden
morning.
Something magical in the
Sunlight, wide and
warming.

I see a dad with a stroller
Taking a jog.
Across the street, a bright-
eyed girl chases her dog.

A grandma on a porch
fingers her rosaries.
She grins as her young
neighbor brings her
groceries.

 While we might feel small,
Separate, and all alone,
Our people have never been
more closely tethered.

The question isn’t if we will
weather this unknown,
But how we will weather
this unknown together.

So on this meaningful
morn, we mourn and we
mend.
Like light, we can’t be
broken, even when we
bend.

 As one, we will defeat both
despair and disease.
We stand with healthcare
heroes and all employees;

With families, libraries,
Schools, waiters, artists;
Businesses, restaurants,
and hospitals hit hardest.

 We ignite not in the light,
but in lack thereof,
For it is in loss that we truly
learn to love.

In this chaos, we will
discover clarity.
In suffering, we must find
solidarity.

For it’s our grief that gives
us gratitude,
Shows us how to find hope,
if we ever lose it.

So ensure that this ache
wasn’t endured in vain:
Do not ignore the pain. Give
it purpose. Use it.

Read children’s books,
dance alone to DJ music.
Know that this distance will
make our hearts grow
fonder.

From a wave of woes our
world will emerge stronger.
We’ll observe how the
burdens braved by
humankind
Are also the moments that
make us humans kind;

Let every dawn find us
Courageous, brought closer;
Heeding the light before the
fight is over.

When this ends, we’ll smile
Sweetly, finally seeing
In testing times, we became
the best of beings.

by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, April, 2020

SMALL ODE TO JOY

Hurry. The redbud won't wait, or the freesia,
or the silver-bark cherry. All the new webs,
shining and floating like unrounded bubbles
won't wait. They'll be gone even faster. Hurry.

Let's lay down heaviness and watch.
If we find ourselves asking whether this is the last spring,
it's not because we want to know.
It's only that asking makes us look.

I know of a walk to a waterfall,
past smaller streams wetting the path,
past butterflies flashing
and banana slugs oozing blindly towards

a heaven of pink-flowered sorrel.
There's the sound of the stream, a distant woodpecker,
and the falls themselves, where the water pours down
spreading like hair over the rock.

We don't owe everything to madmen who think
we're only empty shoes in their jig with death.
We don't owe everything to sorrow. 

by Charlotte Muse,sent by Merna Hecht, Vashon

A SMALL NEEDFUL FACT

Is that Eric Garner worked

for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

By Ross Gay, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

THE EXHIBIT

My uncle in East Germany
points to the unicorn in the painting
and explains it is now extinct.
We correct him, say such a creature
never existed. He does not argue,
but we know he does not believe us.
He is certain power and gentleness
must have gone hand in hand
once. A prisoner of war
even after the war was over,
my uncle needs to believe in something
that could not be captured except by love,
whose single luminous horn
redeemed the murderous forest
and, dipped into foul water,
would turn it pure. This world,
this terrible world we live in,
is not the only possible one,
his eighty year old eyes insist,
dry wells that fill so easily now.

by Lisel Mueller, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

When I Am Asked

How I began writing poems,
I talk about the indifference of nature.

It was soon after my mother died,
a brilliant June day,
everything blooming.

I sat on a gray stone bench
in a lovingly planted garden,
but the day lilies were as deaf
as the ears of drunken sleepers
and the roses curved inward.
Nothing was black or broken
and not a leaf fell
and the sun blared endless commercials
for summer holidays.

I sat on a gray stone bench
ringed with the ingenue faces
of pink and white impatiens
and placed my grief
in the mouth of language,
the only thing that would grieve with me.

By Lisel Mueller, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

Lighting Our Way

There was a place
where I once jumped
in between rhymes
of a double-dutch rope,
a sidewalk, chalked in colors
leading to sky blue,
a blue bicycle
where I knew how fast
I could pedal,
where my legs understood
how to take me home,
swift and unafraid.

What if we each swung a secret
lantern through any darkness
showing us the way back
to the tingling of dusk
as only children know it,
just before night thickens
with the first firefly
in our cradled hands,

I want to believe
it would help us remember
how to light our way.

By Myrna Ann Hecht, Vashon Island

If You Knew

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

by Ellen Bass, offered by Janie Starr, Vashon Island

WITH THAT MOON LANGUAGE

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
full moon in each eye that is
always saying,

with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in
this world is
dying to
hear?

By Hafiz, submitted by Heather Timken, Vashon Island

What Issa Heard

Two hundred years ago Issa heard the morning birds
singing sutras to this suffering world.
I heard them too, this morning, which must mean,

since we will always have a suffering world,
we must also always have a song.

by David Budbill, offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon Island

Our Names Are Long

Our names are long, but what of it—
who cares if they laze and droop
and bump along? If names were short—
like drops of water, all most alike—
there’d be a sea, a tide, a flood
of them.

Long names straighten doubt out:
so far as I know, I’ve only met five
(or six) OzymandiasRumpelstiltskins.
But even one of those (I knew her
well) employed as middle initial
OldKinderhookTheThird.

Lo, what a terrible misfortune—
to be named (oh, sad!) Ann Sow
or (most vile!) Vi Ng. There must be
seven or eight—maybe ten—
jillion parents come to claim
those children after school.

Me, I’d pick a better name: the six
million names of beetles, repeated
a google times a google times.
This pins the namee down most well—
to maybe two or three assorted folks,
but still. . . .

There’s only one name among
a jillion jillion will ever really pin
a person down uniquely as should
be. Like the texture of our mobile
tongues, like the color of our toes,
by heart we all know this one—
I.

By Robert Keeler, Vashon Island

What We Need

The emperor,
his bullies
and henchmen
terrorize the world
every day,

which is why
every day

we need

a little poem
of kindness,

a small song
of peace

a brief moment
of joy.

David Budbill, We’ve Still Got Feet , offered by Myrna Hecht, Vashon island

Letter To Our Virus-In-Chief

If you have a secret
keep it. Choose your
targets like a heat-
seeking missile.
Take out
the perpetrator,

the orange-haired
monster and his
stuttery silver-tongued

accomplices––they don’t
know where or how
to stop or thwart you.

Absolve the innocents
and wise ones
but take down

the disrespecters
and dismissers.
The world revolves and glows

as ICU monitors flicker
and beep; germ-guns and bleach-bombs
against you not yet discovered

or properly detonated
against your crazy curated chaos.
Ill-prepared sycophants

rail against
mischosen enemies while
our proto-Nero fiddles at his wall.

During this conflagration
the sun shines
the earth turns

and holds its center
while invisible vectors
writhe and gnaw .

We seers press back with isolation
hope and determination
to stymie defeat.

By Laura Celise Lippman March 20, 2020, Vashon Island.

KINDNESS

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

by Naomi Shihab Nye in Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

WATERFOWL LIVING THE GOOD LIFE

The ducks were fed
and clustered at our feet.
They pecked away,
oblivious to the sublime clothes
they wore

while we clod-hopped through
the scenery, peering and clicking
and stepping carefully
around their piles––

wood ducks and cranes especially
ignored us as they strutted
resplendently.

They were more attuned
to the white-headed raptors
regarding them silently
from the treetops.

By Laura Celise Lippman, Vashon Island, February, 2020

Purple Martin 3

Remembering being down in Holiday Beach
Watching the martins in their home.

The martins fly into their summer home
Set up for them at the property’s edge
Only to return to the mosquito fields
Their density ensures these birds are well fed.

A soft loving call escapes from the male
And is returned with sweetness by its mate
And the other couples living nearby
Also act like they are on a date.

While martins are predators of the insect world
Their home life is one of love and harmony
And they manage to co-exist without strife
Perhaps its because they don’t worry about money.

The world of birds has much to share
With those of us who ask and care
It is possible to be both hard and soft
A characteristic I consider to be rare.

High density housing seems not a problem
To the martin families packed in the condo
They share their space with amazing grace
Yet they are always on the go.

Tolerance is a trait that we all need
As we face an issue like this pesky virus
We need to be willing to offer help
And spread a layer of good will amongst us.

A pandemic it seems pushes all of our buttons
The folks on television are all stressed out
The lights on our system are all blinking red
And as I watch I just want to shout.

So I think of the martins to find some peace
And listen to hear the soft gentle tweet
And I conjure that sound to end the day
And help me find my way to sleep.

By Jim Blackburn, Houston, Texas. 2020

Pandemic Spring

For one brief moment, the kitchen smells of lilacs
And I will try to remember (in the branch-bare winter)
How the cherry blossoms were the same color as the mountains
Pinned to a bright, high bulletin board of bird-song blue
And how the rhodies opened in succession
Seducing bumblebees and housing crab spiders
(cunning mistresses of camouflage)
A pandemic makes one long for the spring while still in it
Hearts aching for the flowers even as they bloom
The maddening cherry petals that produce a most delicate snow
Feather-light circles that will not melt
But polka-dot the mossy patio, deliciously spent

By Kathryn True, Vashon Island, May 2020

Together Again in the Shadow Of The Plague

We sit around the table
pass the Purelle
and wash the childrens’ hands excessively.

We look at our token wolf mask
in its place on the wall and
we howl the family howl

but only after we link hands, close our
eyes tight & say Grace,
my dead mother’s name.

It’s good to have us all back
from over the Southern Border
but I wonder about plague sequelae

& worry about the silent fetus
young & vulnerable &
susceptible to harm–

carried and so far safely.

The crown germ lurks and threatens
on every placid voyaged surface,
on every happy traveler’s face–

its nonchalance a stark
contrast to the innocent porters
who shake its glitter indiscriminately
everywhere.

by Laura Celise Lippman, Vashon Island, March 5, 2020

And the People Stayed Home

And the people stayed home.
And read books, and listened, and rested,
and exercised, and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being, and were still.
And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant,
dangerous, mindless and heartless ways,
the Earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed,
and the people joined together again,
they grieved their losses, and made new choices,
and dreamed new images,
and created new ways to live and heal the Earth fully,
as they had been healed.

by Kitty O’Meara

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

by Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Sheltered-in-Place

I was walking our dog during the pandemic,
the neighborhood empty, the clouds heavy,
and, through my headphones, the music of a
man now gone, the love from his soul helping
me keep my head above water. And though
it’s hard to bow to the vastness of the sea
when being pulled under, hard to believe
in the merit of light when lost in the dark,
hard to wait on love when painfully lonely—
these larger truths never stop being true.
Even as I voice this, someone is dying in
the hall of an overcrowded hospital, while
another is lifted from their own hell by the
grace of a kindness no one saw coming. As
if the spirit of the one dying arrives like pollen
in the heart of the one stuck in hell, giving them
just enough to begin again. If we could only give
the extra warmth we receive to someone who is
shivering. If we could shed the masks that
keep us from ourselves, there would be
enough to save the world.

by Mark Nepo, 2020

Sabbath

As night falls on Sunday
the floor swept the rug clean
I can almost imagine
the whole world at peace
without oceans dying out
whole peoples disappearing
fire and smoke rising
as we race to the finish
where all that we know
will be finished

how can one sleep in peace

and yet we must sleep
to keep rising awake
able to walk and
work another way
where resting at evening
as the sun falls away is
peace is enough
is a world in itself
working to be whole

once more

by Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma, Vashon Island

Red-Breasted Merganser 2

At home with Garland getting my head together
About dealing with this virus.

Did you wake up this morning and look in the mirror
And scream out in despair?

Well if you did, I know how you feel
When you encounter “merganser hair”.

In this time of separation and isolation
We are unlikely to have seen our hair provider,

It’s growing unchecked and beginning to curl
And attracting the interest of the local birder.

Now as a professor I’ve been heard to say
That this is a teaching moment,

That this is a plus, a chance, a beginning
Rather than a look that you should lament.

“Merganser hair” should be the start
Of the newest in viral trends,

We’ll wear it with pride for it cannot hide
And don’t even think of making amends.

So think of the Merganser and its hair
Which it wears with pride cause it’s great.

And in its world its sure to succeed
In getting the bird an exciting date.

There’s power in accepting and in reflecting
About what we have and being grateful,

We did not choose but have had to respond
To a viral tragedy and events most fateful.

So think of the merganser and its hair
As a metaphor for these challenging days,

And embrace the face looking back from the mirror,
And don’t let me hear any nays.

By Jim Blackburn in Houston Texas, friend of Carla Pryne, Vashon




Meditations Upon Breath

In this viral time
each breath a blessing, people
perish for want of air.

All these years I have taken it
for granted—breathing, how it happens
without me. No real effort
on my part.

I sleep
and my lungs fill with air,
chest rises and falls
as I dream.

All my life I have let my body
do its work with blinded mind.
Time for me to waken to breath
as thousands perish for want of air.

Each morning a ceremony of breath.
Breath, my body’s holy bread,
rising warm before falling.

My prayer today is a sigh,
begins at dawn and ends at night.

How many syllables can one exhalation hold?
How long can I swim underwater
drawing from one inhalation?

A fearful world holds its collective breath

A friend reminds that to speak
the Hebrew word for god
requires inhalation:         YAH
then, exhalation:             WEH

God breathing
is
breathing God

Bronchioles: tiny tubes in lungs
like branches of a big tree:
30,000 of them in each lung
the thickness of a hair

Alveoli: tiny air sacs
at the end of bronchioles:
600 million of them in our lungs,
encased in capillaries so tiny

“that the cells in your blood
need to line up single file
just to march through”

Each lung a tree of life
rooted in my body—
body a kind of ground
as well as tap-root
each breath, each breath

I remember his last breath,
rippling
the saliva pooled along his tongue:
his heart stopping beneath my hand.

“they emit viral particles whenever
they talk, breathe, cough or sneeze.
These particles are encased in
globs of mucus, saliva and water.
bigger globs fall faster than
they evaporate, so they splash down
nearby—called ‘droplets’.
Smaller globs evaporate faster
than they fall, leaving dried-out viruses
that linger in the air and drift
farther afield—these are called ‘aerosols’.

When researchers say a virus is ‘airborne’,
like measles or chickenpox, they mean
that it moves as aerosols.”

picture another kind of breathing taking place amongst us

Let’s infuse our air with spoken
poems and prayers.

Short words splash as “droplets”,
bathing eyelids and foreheads

with pauses and healing images.
Longer words—connectivity and inspirational

dry unseen in air, “aerosols” that float
into silent alleyways, and third-story balconies,

littered stairs to subways, sidewalks where
people wait six feet apart for groceries,

through doors of emergency rooms and ICUs
where they pause to embrace weary doctors and nurses,

slip inside the ventilators to shuttered lungs, 
open alveoli, brighten the brionchioles,

get all of us breathing again
for ourselves and for each other

by Cyra Dumitru,  sent by Merna Hecht, Vashon