Library Blog

Maybe Poems Can Help a Little Now

Monday, March 30, 2020

For National Poetry Month, we asked Library member and poet Esther Cohen to talk about how poems can help now. Esther Cohen is a grateful member of The New York Society Library. She writes, teaches, and is a cultural activist. Most days she posts a poem at

I’ve always loved poems, and written them. But I know from first hand experience how many people don’t. Not too long ago I did a reading at a community center in upstate New York. A friend’s father, a man in his nineties, came up to me before the reading. What’s good about poetry is it puts me right to sleep he said. And while sleeping is always a Good Thing, poems are too. Today in the crazy time we’re all living through, in these days we will remember the way we remember some other days, where history changes right in front of us and so does life itself, today while we try to help others, comfort ourselves by meditating, by making soup and cookies, by cleaning a closet we’ve intended to clean for years, today while we find old friends on the internet we haven’t had time to find in years and we actually talk to them on the telephone, today while we figure out what really matters and what can help us survive this impossible time, we are really and truly lucky that we have so many good books, so many wonderful pieces of music, so many poems. Here are a few that have helped me . And one of mine. I try to write a poem a day. And now I have the time.


By Lynne Ungar
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.


To Bless the Space Between Us
By John O’Donohue

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.


By Esther Cohen

I found a pair of lost red glasses
in a stack of papers in a Mexican bag
I’d intended to sort for a few years now
and because I am not usually sitting in the apartment
for hours on end maybe never until now and because
I am one of those people who buys something every day
even if it’s a bottle of ketchup this apartment is full
of papers and food and I am able now to find my glasses
and some lost poems and pieces of paper I’ve saved
forever like a letter from 1978 from a man who wanted
to write a book that begins with the word Finally.



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