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poetry Small Kindnesses

As plague years continue, California poet Danusha Laméris writes of “brief moments of exchange” that sustain hope and belief in what is holy.

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Small Kindnesses

By Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk 

down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs 

to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” 

when someone sneezes, a leftover 

from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. 

And sometimes, when you spill lemons 

from your grocery bag, someone else will help you 

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pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, 

and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile 

at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress 

to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, 

and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far 

from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. 

What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these 

fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,

have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

Danusha Laméris is the author of The Moons of August (Autumn House, 2014), winner of the Autumn House Press poetry prize and was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Book Award. Her poems have been published in: The Best American Poetry, The New York Times, The American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The SUN Magazine, Tin HouseThe Gettysburg Review, and Ploughshares. Her second book, Bonfire Opera, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), was winner of a 2021 Northern California Book Award. The 2020 recipient of the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award, she teaches poetry independently, and is a Poet Laureate emeritus of Santa Cruz County, California. She is currently on the faculty of Pacific University's low-residency MFA program.