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Poetry Friday: A Poem From The Frontline

Karen Vanaman

Healthcare professionals have become Superheroes during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re working long, stressful shifts, isolating themselves from family and friends to keep them safe, and persevering through unimaginable circumstances. Karen Vanaman is an ICU nurse in Flagstaff. Through the exhausting work, fear and heartbreak, Karen says she’s honored to care for her community during such a critical time in human history. She is in awe of her coworkers for their dedication to the cause and is grateful for the support of her community. In this week’s Poetry Friday segment, Karen reads a poem by Marge Piercy called, To Be Of Use.

KV: A couple of months ago when we first started seeing the COVID-positive patients coming in, I honestly had a lot of anxiety about going to work – not really knowing what to expect, but knowing to expect it to be hard. Yeah, these shifts…they can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting for us.

But I have to say, there’s also something that’s actually comforting to me about going to work and knowing that I’m capable of serving my community in such an important way right now. It’s also comforting to go to work and see my coworkers that are right there with me, supporting me through it, and I’m there to support them, as well.

I’d have to say, even in the midst of a pandemic like this, I still choose this profession every single day. My coworkers have often impressed me, but now more than ever, I’m seeing amazing amounts of dedication, innovation, advocacy and compassion for both the patients and their family members that cannot be at the bedside right now.

Credit Karen Vanaman
Signs of gratitude plaster the windows of the ICU at Flagstaff Medical Center

I want to acknowledge all of the support and love from our community. We really appreciate the cards, drawings and donations. We can hear you howling every night, we see you in the parking lot, we see you staying home and wearing masks to protect one another.

It’s really strange that we can’t be greeting each other with hugs and kisses and handshakes right now, but I’m trying not to forget the importance of a smile to one another, or waving, just…looking for ways to still feel connected when we have to be so separate.

I’m choosing to read a poem that represents my gratitude for working in a profession that can be so fulfilling, and working alongside so many amazing coworkers that inspire me daily.

To be of use

By, Marge Piercy

The people I love the best

jump into work head first

without dallying in the shallows

and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals

bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,

who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,

who do what has to be done, again and again.

Credit Karen Vanaman
ICU nurse Karen Vanaman when she's not in her nurse Superhero gear

I want to be with people who submerge

in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters

but move in a common rhythm

when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

(Music: One Love, U2)

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU’s Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at

Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.