Lenten Series – Shelter


Shelter is inextricably linked to our health. In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, how can homeless people “shelter in place”?

Even if there were enough shelter beds for everyone experiencing homelessness, communal shelters do not include enough space to allow social distancing, nor private rooms for self-isolation of those with symptoms. San Francisco, Paris, Chicago and other large cities are hoping to utilize hotels for this purpose. Some states have also proposed the use of trailers. The short-term question is whether the funds, and the accommodations, will be available in time to stop the spread of the virus among this vulnerable population. The long-term question is whether we will transition to a policy of “housing first” to address systemic homelessness.

The prophet Isaiah once asked his people why they participated in religious fasting. “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear….” –Isaiah 58:7-8

May the healing quickly appear.

The Truth about Pain – NaPoWriMo Day 3

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt challenges us to write a fourteener. That’s a poem whose lines each have fourteen syllables.

My poem is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat.  Physical therapists, doctors and nurses are always asking me to define my pain on a scale of one to ten. That type of arbitrary definition can’t possibly describe the nature of my pain–nor, I’m guessing, anyone else’s.

Hmmm, it’s only day three, and I’m already ranting….

The Truth about Pain

by Jan Brown

If I could only tell the truth about my pain today

it wouldn’t fit into the scale of one to ten. No way!

It wouldn’t fit into a thousand scales or any notion

of normal human suffering. It would fill up every ocean

on the planet, and Mars and Venus, too. Don’t tell me that

you don’t believe, because I know you do. It isn’t what

I tell you that you would find so fantastic; it is just

the awful truth that I’ve left out, and yet I must.

For if I told you everything, you would be in dire shock

or possibly, like some doctors, you may not give a fuck.


NaPoWriMo 17 – Morning Song

Today’s NaPoWriMo challenge is to write a poem that provides a detailed description of something using at least three of the five senses. It’s recommended that we describe something we encountered or experienced today.

Morning Song

by Jan Brown

morning feels like the aftermath of an assault
surely someone had attacked her knees and hips
while she fitfully slept
perhaps an angry debt collector
a sour-faced enforcer or
a fundraiser for the arthritis foundation
wielding a baseball bat

the acrid odor of stale sweat
another reminder of the night’s
pain and thrashing
gives way to the sweetness
of lavender body wash
doesn’t smell at all like lavender
still it’s delicate and flowery
giving purpose to the wisps of steam
that reorganize the kinks in her tendons

taste buds waken against their will
to the dry minty medication
that melts in her mouth
as advertised
a dozen more pills
to wash down with breakfast
she gives thanks to whichever greek god
created fat-free yogurt
and all the tiny morsels of mango
that lurk at the bottom of the plastic cup

she greets the world outside her window
seasonal colors waiting to be seen
but doesn’t come alive
until she hears the morning’s song
a harmonious cacophony of birds
going about the business of a warm spring day
the rhythm of lawn mowers and leaf blowers
the whistle of the train
the soulful latin jazz refrain
morning’s almost gone
but her song remains



NaPoWriMo 3 – A Charm Against Arthritis

National Poetry Writing Month continues….

The third challenge is to write a rhyming charm, a recipe for a magical potion to make something happen–or, as in my case, to keep something from happening!


A Charm Against Arthritis

by Jan Brown

The jawbone of an ass
But not a politician
A bit of sassafras
The cane of a magician
The ribbon of my best friend’s hat
To remind me of her love
A photo of my sweet black cat
A blessing from above
The sparkle of a topaz
To fight away the pain
A few fine notes of cool jazz
To soothe and keep me sane
Olive oil to grease the joints
A rabbit’s foot for luck
A carrot just for counterpoint
A grimace when I say, “Oh, f*ck!”
A hundred Advil, two by two
Some fairy dust would help
A thousand steps and stretches too
Don’t worry if I scream and yelp
Just add the final touch
A pinch of peppery spice
Some alcohol, but not too much
Vodka would be nice
Shall I imbibe, or use as lotion?
Not sure, but either way
Heaven bless this mighty potion
And keep the demons of pain at bay

What You Have to Get Over

Physically ChallengedThe Poetry Foundation featured a group of classic and contemporary “Get Well Soon” poems in their March 28th newsletter. Under the category of “Healing,” I found a gem by Dick Allen, the current poet laureate of Connecticut. Here are some excerpts that spoke to me.

If you have a chronic illness, degenerative disease or love someone who does, Mr. Allen’s words might speak to you as well.

What You Have to Get Over (excerpts)

by Dick Allen

Stumps. Railroad tracks. Early sicknesses,

the blue one, especially.

Your first love rounding a corner,

that snowy minefield….

You have to get over your resentments,

the sun in the morning and the moon at night,

all those shadows of yourself you left behind

on odd little tables….

If you would recover,

you have to get over the shattered autos in the backwoods lot

to that bridge in the darkness

where the sentinels stand

guarding the border with their half-slung rifles,

warned of the likes of you.


I pray that the sentinels who guard the bridge to recovery will greet you, smile, and let you pass 🙂

To read the poem in its entirety, please visit The Poetry Foundation.



This was inspired in part by a recent writing prompt on Twitter (#orjay), provided by @RJ_kumarkumar. The prompt is the title of the poem.

The poem was also inspired by recurrent, pain-induced insomnia, and the question, “What the #*%$ can I listen to, read, pray, meditate, work on, ingest, or just DO, in order to get a little sleep?”

This was one answer.

Monterey Bay enhanced

Stranger Tides

salt water rushing over bare legs

familiar coastal sounds a lullaby

stranger tides

another ocean

would wake me too soon

Tracks to Nowhere

Nowhere Train (or Train to Atlantis), a photo by innoxiuss on Flickr

I saw this haunting photo online today. The tracks to nowhere are indicative of so many things in our lives: the paths that led us away from our goals, the endeavors that consumed countless hours, days or years and led nowhere, or the paths that led to something amazing, but that amazing thing no longer exists.

As life suddenly changes, we are stranded and may not be able to see a way back. This is where I find myself after a long and trying illness.  I fight daily to find my way back.  I am not always moving in the right direction, and I’ve been stranded for quite some time, but I have faith that I will build a new set of tracks, and it will lead somewhere amazing.

Psalm of Arthritis

The last few days have been particularly painful. During these times, I try to remember that I am not alone in the experience of extreme pain. I often turn to the psalms of David, who also (apparently) had arthritis. His psalms are peppered with references to it.

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
– Psalm 6:2

My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
– Psalm 38:7-8

David’s relationship with his pain is a recurrent theme in the Psalms. He sometimes viewed his pain as a punishment for sin, primarily his relationship with Bathsheba and his involvement with the death of her first husband. He sometimes viewed his physical pain as part of his political and family struggles. (I imagine the pain of arthritis was worse when his son tried to overthrow him, worse when he fled certain death to hide in a cave.) David also viewed his pain as a metaphor for the broader struggle of the people and nation of Israel.

Despite the pain, David usually ended each psalm with praise for a God who listened to his cries for help. I need to remember that. It’s comforting to know that others feel your pain, but even more comforting to experience their sense of hope.

I don’t know what else to say than: Amen.