The Yakima Coffeehouse Poets, a nonprofit formed in 2014 to represent the interests of poets and poetry lovers in Central Washington, is the organization behind this poetry column, which runs on the last Thursday of each month. It features inland Washington poets and their winning poems from the Yakima Coffeehouse Poets’ annual contest.
Karen Gookin was raised in Montana and has lived in Ellensburg since 1981, when she moved there from Eugene, Ore., with her husband and two daughters. She retired from Central Washington University in 2013 after teaching in the English department for 30 years, and in 2015 retired from the Yakima Symphony Orchestra after 20 years playing flute and piccolo.
She has spent these COVID months writing, gardening and sorting 50 years of family photos with her husband, Larry. Like so many others, she has honored the “stay at home” recommendation as much as possible because of her age and asthma.
And then everything changed
Not the sky’s certain blue or green-gold trees,
Not the spring-slant of light and the urge
It brings to grow. But this — my trust
In the air I’ll breathe as it leaves
Your lungs to enter mine. And this —
Minding our hands now. No clasping yours
On a morning walk, no caressing
A grandson’s tanned cheek, or even
My own. And this. No sure promise
Of your arms or the warmth of our daughters’ hold
When the end does come. And this. The night
At its darkest, the dew point hour when silence
Chills and I sit startled, sending my breath to search
The bottom of my lungs, counting heart beats that lift
Bed sheets every half-second, again, again.
On this island of now I know that random breath
Or touch a few days back could set my fate, schedule
My passion and death eight days out. Buried, then,
By the end of next week. What reasoning, what prayer
Sustains our hope for one more day without symptoms,
For days ahead like those we remember?
— Karen Gookin