Therapist Eric Stone shares another poetic view of life with the coronavirus. Read his earlier poem, “Ghosts of Goodness.” 

Breath We Never Knew

By Eric Stone ®

I never knew the tree across the street was shaped like a banana.

I never knew redwoods in forests could speak! Creaking and crackling in the quiet woods, telling us something.


I never knew the elderly widow,

98 years old,

sitting on her porch,

a neighbor who rarely speaks,

has such a pretty smile,

that her hair is whiter than clouds,

that she never has a visitor.


I never knew the color of skies illuminated so many hues and holidays:

Valentine’s Day reds,

July fourth patriotic blues,

Christmas tree greens,

that rainbows never really disappear.


I truly never saw the bright, bright sun,

how it kisses the oceans in the early dawns,

caressing us awake,

that massive egg yolk alarm clock,

rising and setting,

regardless of our infractions.


It never occurred to me that the planet turns

and spins,

always on cue,

offering us daily glimpses into the mysteries of eternity and infinity,

in spite of how we treat her.


I never heard birds sing so many different songs,

or even knew they could,

or saw the baby swans tucked between their parents’ protective wings,

floating on the glistening still pond,

simply existing.


Were they always there?

I never noticed that when birds fly, it looks like they are celebrating.

I never noticed how the light of dusk radiates off my dog’sbrown fur at 5:25pm.

I never noticed 5:25pm.

I never knew how brown his fur was, with streaks of gold on his thighs.

Did he always love my shoes so much?

New shoes, old shoes, muddy or clean,

and I wondered if he was a shoemaker in another life.


I never knew stillness,

sustained and contained by nothing but infinite bottomlessness,

a groundlessness that chills flesh,

drops the body’s temperature to ice,

races the beating heart into 3am panic:

will we ever have jobs again?

will we lose our dwellings?

will our dear ones go hungry?


When will this end?


The darkness and the dead cannot hurt us.

Uncertainty is the new demon:

how utterly terrifying,

how tremendously freeing.


Have you ever grieved so many deaths

of so many strangers

all at once?

Does it feel like you knew every one of them?

That we are them:

the living and the dead.


We are the husband in New York City,

who sat for five hours

in a one-room studio

waiting for paramedics,

after his wife took her last breath.

We are the grandmothers in nursing homes

staring at doors that never open,

no one coming to see us,

and we are the nurse’s aides holding their hands.


I never knew how much the earth needed to breathe,

and how I did, too.

Did deep breaths and raindrops always taste so delicious?

I never knew

that breath itself,

the moment it gives,

the moment it takes,

the present moment,

is all we have,

life itself,

that the Buddhists and Bodhisattvas were right all along.


Did you ever think the planet would reset herself without warning?

Did we realize Mother Earth is more powerful and savvy

than any dictator or oligarch?

Smarter than any political strategist,

the ultimate policymaker with the final say,

she is the sole international peacekeeper.

She is the United Nations.

The only one true ruler,

she will unite nations

and destroy their walls in minutes.

She is the only healer of herself.


Did you know she laughed gently, without malice,

at climate accords

and the leaders who defied them?

She quietly spoke, then roared,

offering fair warnings

of fires and floods,

submerged villages in water,

set towns ablaze,

forests afire,

her beckoning calls ignored.

Now, perhaps exhausted by human indifference,

she overruled us,

hijacked our hubris,

leveled our entitled arrogance,

slowed down our self-grasping ways.


She dispensed quieter, more confounding tactics:

with molecules that humbled dictators,

brought presidents to the feet of Jesus,

landed jet planes,

sealed the airspace,

and cleared her skies,

while lions in South Africa

sprawl out in peaceful slumber on highways,

dolphins dance in the clear blue seas,

and unhunted deer prance freely in their homelands.

Eric Stone


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