Poem of the Month: Ask Me, William Stafford


“Sky Full of Columbines” (c) K. Adams. The columbine is Colorado’s state flower.

In Colorado we are beginning to experience the quickening of damp earth and swift streams as February’s ice is released. It brings optimism, deep breaths of sunshine, and relief.

The legendary William Stafford wrote a new poem every morning. This one, which his journal records as being written on Dec 11, 1974, has been a “mentor poem” for me over the last many years. It has companioned me through many difficult life passages and experiences; it lives within me, arises when I need it, and quietly teaches and guides me, offering fortitude, patience, resilience, and a sweet, gentle reminder that I can trust that something is happening even when it appears that nothing is happening:

… We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.

I love to visit this poem every springtime as an opportunity to give thanks for the “underground stream” and to anticipate the surfacing of that which has been living out of sight within me.  I invite you to join me in the exploration.

As a note, Stafford’s original last lines, per his journal, are:

If the river says anything
whatever it says is my answer.


Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.  Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait.  We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

–William Stafford

Copyrighted material used for educational purposes.


Journal prompts:

  • Start a write, “Sometime when the river is ice….” or “Sometime when the ice is melting…”
  • Read the poem aloud, more than once if necessary. What is the emotion that surfaces for you? What does this poem evoke in you? Describe it.
  • Where in your body/heart/mind/soul might you need a little thawing, some free-flow?
  • Think about a situation in your life that feels frozen, stuck, immobile. Imagine that you can feel into the “comings and goings from miles away” that are working underground, beneath the surface, past the obvious. What shifts for you when you think about the hidden, even invisible, process that may be at work?


Poem of the Month: July 2015

“I love the hour before takeoff…” begins US poet laureate (1993-95) Rita Dove in her poem “Vacation.” Whether you’re jetting off for a July getaway or sipping lemonade on your own porch, you’re sure to enjoy this slice of summer life.


I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

–Rita Dove

In On the Wing, University of Iowa Press

(c) material used for educational purposes

Journal Prompts

  • Are you headed somewhere this summer? Write about your anticipation or other feeling generated by the trip.
  • Write about a memorable vacation.
  • What’s your “hour before takeoff” airport ritual?
  • If you were on a fantasy “Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17,” where would you be off to?


Poem of the Month: June 2015

Here’s a lovely June poem to help you “roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer….” (Nat King Cole, 1962). This is a perennial favorite in my poetry therapy groups. Enjoy!

 The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli,” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

–Tony Hoagland

in Sweet Ruin, (c) 1992 University of Wisconsin Press.

Copyrighted material used for educational purposes.

Journal Prompts

What would you pencil into your “crossed-out list” that “resting on the page” would be “beautiful”?
Start a write to yourself with, “Do you remember?”

Write a plan for how you will prioritize your own self-care in the month of June.