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, andnders – your neighbors and friends -- since the coronavirus descended upon us.

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

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

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