On Coming Up for Air

It’s spring, a season of expectations and the morning smells fresh. Light conquers as the cold, dark and long Nordic winter finally relents. Even though the surface remains slippery, I dare come out to play.

I had decided not to start the year with laments, for I know not of anyone who hasn’t been bandaging wounds or scars left by 2020. So, instead I plunged myself into water, even though I’ve never been a good swimmer. It was a leap of faith, an expectation that I’ll come out mentally and emotionally strong. Because I’d have learned to not try to grab hold of water but float.

It’s often said people gravitate towards poetry for comfort or getting through a tough time. I’m one of those who don’t gravitate but planted are in it. Because as Rosemary Nissen-Wade once wrote, “Maybe the only person your poetry will save is yourself.” But now that I’ve finally written an epitaph for my dad-in-law, I’m coming up for air.

And the question I ask, have you been leaning into poetry or running away from, during these hard times? Why?

note: This piece was inspired by a number of recent events, a poem I wrote years ago, Rosemary’s quote above & I’m also linking to Writers’ Pantry at Poets and Storytellers United.

Khaya Ronkainen
Khaya Ronkainen is a writer, poet and creative professional. Her blog focuses on all things poetry and creative nonfiction.


  1. Once a poet always a poet who will react to the world around them, telling their thoughts and bearing the burden which others may well hide from. Poets have a job to do in recording their present for people in the future to learn from.

  2. I have been a poet for less than half a decade, and I find myself turning towards poetry most when the mind is in turmoil or when things are unresolved. Definitely poetry helps to fill in the gaps, express the unexpressed

  3. During this time of turmoil, poetry and stories and novels have been one of the things that have kept me afloat. I’ve found myself going back to reread all my favorite writings. It’s like being in a stormed sea and being able to wrap my arms around old friends tell the best tales (and also happen to be excellent swimmers).

  4. Oh, did I say that? How intelligent of me! 😀 Nice that it made such an impression on you, and that you now gift it back to me. For of course I was right – and saving oneself is as important as saving anyone else, after all.

    Yes, writing has continued for me during these troubling times we’ve been having. It’s a constant for me, and it does indeed save me, time and again, at any time of my life. Also I have been doing lots more reading of other people’s writing. I’ve always read a lot, but since the pandemic started, somehow I’ve managed even more. All things considered, I feel blessed to have this love of words.

  5. Leaning, but on both poetry and prose. It’s been an intensely tough couple of weeks, and though I gave myself permission to skip writing, I found myself reaching for it as much, if not more, as I had before.

  6. Also my condolences on the loss of your father-in-law. I’m sure the words you chose for him were beautiful.

  7. If it weren’t for writing poems daily, I would have died long ago.

  8. I’m sorry to hear about your father-in-law Khaya. I’m not much of a poet, but 2020 did send a few poets my way <3

  9. I found myself trying to write poetry last year, and did for a few months. I am beginning to feel some awakenings this spring after last years fires, deaths and setbacks. There is a song by the Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”.. One of the verses goes
    “Well, darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable
    And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear
    And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
    I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it
    I’m crawling on your shores”

  10. “Poets have a job to do in recording their present for people in the future to learn from.” I like this a lot. Because as we battle the pandemic, I take great comfort in knowing that previous generations also had to deal with disease, famine, etc., and some survived to tell the story; the books we reach out to nowadays as we try to make sense of our world. Thank you for insightful comment, Robin!

  11. You are spot on there, poetry does help us express the unexpressed as well as the inexpressible. Keep writing, Namratha!

  12. The muse is a fickle thing. I think being patient with oneself is key, especially those of us who are slow processors. But you are lucky with time on your hands as I also believe that words need space and time to form.

  13. Oh yes, I can relate to what you are talking about; the joy of rereading favourites. It’s good to have old friends that can offer comfort; telling tales of their times and how they survived periods of turmoil. I lean into those excellent swimmers myself as they help me keep afloat.

  14. You are always wise, Rosemary! 😀 So many lessons learned from your Moonlight Musings. Yes I agree, saving oneself is as important. Writing poetry, for me, in this challenging is more like keeping own oxygen mask intact.

    Words make great friends, and how blessed are those who love them. Wishing you a wonderful autumn, and may words continue to delight you!

  15. I like that you give yourself permission to skip writing. As I mentioned on another comment here, being patient with ourselves is key. And because we are writers, we eventually reach out for words to help us cope with tough times.

  16. Thank you Rommy, I appreciate your kind words. And I send my condolences again for the loss of your dear friend. <3

  17. Thank you Kathy, I appreciate. It’s also great to hear that 2020 sent you to a few poets. I know you don’t write book reviews but I’d love to hear your take-aways from those poetry books. <3

  18. Your comment about writing poetry made me smile, not because of the unfortunate circumstances that gave rise to it but because I like it when creatives stretch their muscles and try to express themselves in different forms. I’ve been trying my hand at lyrics writing but poetry proves a jealous lover, and doesn’t give me much space. 🙂

    The verse from Closer to Fine is a great gift of words, Lavinia. I actually took time to listen to the whole song; it’s beautiful and a great way to start my day. Thank you so much!

  19. Khaya, I love how even our prose is sheer poetry and I sense the battle of dark and light and glad you can come out once more!

    I am very sorry for your and the family’s loss and it must have been difficult with the responsibility of writing an epitaph to your father-in-law. Your words with beauty and grace will have captured his being, I know. ❤️🤗

    I believe a true poet / writer will always write even if only, as per the quote, it only saves yourself. I am still a total new-beginner with poetry but enjoy dabbling, prose is my preferred haven! What I have run away from this year is editing … my brain has not been in the right place but hope it will be soon. Enjoy your swims – and tell me the water is heated! hugs xx

  20. These hard times are hopefully in the rearview mirror. The one good thing about last year was more time to write, along with doing jigsaw puzzles and crosswords!

  21. You used your time wisely. Good advice!

  22. Hej Annika! Indeed, it’s been a battle of dark and light. But we survive as words are always good company. It’s the same words I use to keep memories of my loved ones alive. Thank you so much your kind comment and condolences. Much appreciated. <3

    You are so right, a writer will always write, if only for themselves. I honestly don't know how I'd cope with this pandemic and all it brought along, if I didn't write. As for you being a beginner with poetry, you are not alone. I'm a beginner every day with anything I write or create. 😀 May you find joy in writing poetry as you do with prose.

    With editing, I know what you mean. I'm in the trenches of editing myself. But if you do get to a point, where you need a fresh pair of eyes to (beta) read your writings before publishing, I'm always here. Good luck with your writing and enjoy the spring! Hugs...xx

    And oh, water was only a metaphor in this piece. The river in my backyard is still frozen. As you know, spring up here is still winter only with sunshine and birdsong. 😀

  23. Wow! Thank you so much for your wonderful offer and I will keep that in mind. That is fabulous. I wish you best of luck with your own editing. I did wonder if the water was a metaphor but Finland is renowned for taking their saunas and cold water dips seriously so one never knows! Khaya, it’s special to chat through comments and always an inspiration and joy to read your posts. Xx

  24. You’ve “learned to not try grab hold of water but float.” I love that, Khaya. You’re a beautiful poet. Dive in and let it save you. And warm hugs for your loss. My light and love fill your days.

  25. It’s great to hear you are leaning on your art and blogging. We must keep leaning, because we can’t do all this life alone. And yes, the Easter break was good, albeit short. Big Hugs my friend! <3

  26. Diana, you are so kind. Thank you always for reading, encouraging and supporting. I appreciate this a lot, and grateful for your virtual hugs. Thank you! <3

  27. Poetry, from its beginnings, was magic…commanding the mysteries with an entanglement of rhyme and alliteration…summoning Power with spider webs of imagery… I run TO poetry…I run to the magic of word-wizards and world builders like YOU…

  28. Run, run to poetry, KC! I believe writing your own can prove to be more cathartic as you can deduce from Rosemary’s quote. Seriously, it would be wonderful to read your poetry. And I thank you enormously for reading mine. <3

  29. I think as a creative, it makes sense that you’re “planted” in it. I’ve been frozen in my studio, but not in my head (too much going on there.) But, I’m starting to create again, and it is healing and comforting… nourishing. So, it makes sense that we gravitate to the air we each breath!

  30. Poetry is something I find therapeutic as well. It’s one way I can make sense of this world with trying to cope with different feelings.

  31. Hey Kyra, I’m so happy to hear you’re starting to create again. This pandemic is especially hard on creativity, with too many things going on. But keep creating for it is healing and comforting, indeed!

Do leave a trace!