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.
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.
“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.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
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,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
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
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but a doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
“I Don’t Pay Attention” by Nayyirah Waheed
i don’t pay attention to the
it has ended for me
and began again in the morning.
“little prayer” by Danez Smith
let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
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
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
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.
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