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7 Short and Soothing Poems to Recite While You Wash Your Hands

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

In the wake of the global spread of COVID-19, many of us are feeling overwhelmed and anxious as we determine how to best take care of ourselves, each other, and our communities. The simplest and most basic thing all of us can all do right now is wash our hands often and thoroughly. The CDC advises washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. Twenty seconds does not seem like long, but it’s definitely longer than most of us are used to watching our hands for. To help keep you on track, I’ve put together a list of beautiful short poems for your hand-washing enjoyment. Print your favorite one out, or prop your phone up against the sink, and read it aloud while you lather and scrub.

These are poems that have often comforted me during hard times. They remind me that though the world is often scary and uncertain, it is also full of beauty, joy and connection. Reciting a poem while you wash your hands can turn a chore into a soothing, grounding ritual.

If you’re looking for sillier hand-washing entertainment, comics creator Lucy Knisley wrote and illustrated an incredible hand washing song to the tune of Frere Jacques. I highly recommend printing and sharing it.

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry


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 might be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

from The Peace of Wild Things: And Other Poems

“Good Bones” by Maggie Smith


Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.

from Good Bones: Poems

“Thank You” by Ross Gay


If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,

from Against Which

“Praying” by Mary Oliver


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones: just
pay attention, then patch

from Thirst

“I Don’t Pay Attention” by Nayyirah Waheed

i don’t pay attention to the
world ending.
it has ended for me
many times
and began again in the morning.

from salt.

“little prayer” by Danez Smith


let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

from Don’t Call Us Dead

“Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost


The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Looking for more beautiful poems to read right now? Try one of these hopeful poetry books. Or read one of these five poems for these days of uncertainty. And if you’re trying to figure out what to do if you’re stuck at home for a while, we’ve got some bookish ideas for how to keep busy during a quarantine.