“Small Kindnesses,” by Danusha Laméris

Small Kindnesses

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
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.”


Copyright 2019 Danusha Laméris. First published in Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection from Green Writers Press. Bonfire Opera (University of Pittsburgh Press 2020).

Read an article by Naomi Shihab Nye featuring the poem here.

Danusha Laméris is the author of Bonfire Opera, recently released by the Pitt Poetry Series and available for order here. She also wrote The Moons of August (Autumn House, 2014), chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye for the Autumn House Press poetry prize and 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 is Bonfire Opera (University of Pittsburgh Press 2020), and she is the 2020 recipient of the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award. She teaches poetry independently and is the current Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County, California.


Poet’s Note

I wrote [this poem] in early 2017 when the world seemed to be imploding a bit, the country fractured in new (and old) ways. It gave me some solace, and so, without much thought, I posted it online rather than seeking publication. I figured we all could use a lift. Then it spiraled around the globe after appearing in the anthology Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection. And now, it’s in Bonfire Opera. It’s given me a web of new connections that continue to carry me through these odd and challenging times.

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  • sampada tiwari November 12, 2021 at 9:08 am

    this is really nice

  • Barbara Balut July 30, 2021 at 9:19 am

    Thank you! Love this!

  • Linda Lucille Murphy July 23, 2021 at 4:50 pm

    Thank you for this poem. I discovered it from a friend’s post on Facebook. The poem came to me when I needed it most. After a long isolation and small steps back out into society once again, people seem strange and dangerous. I was seeing only the potential harm. I think many others feel the same. This week, I asked a woman ahead of me in the grocery check out, how do she liked her oat milk as a milk substitute. She instantly seemed defensive. I explained my doctor recommended that I stop using milk and that I was having difficulty doing without milk. She then smiled and talked about her oat milk. A brief moment of exchange. After reading “Small Kindnesses”, I realize that people have been extending small kindnesses to me but I missed them. I am trying to pay attention now.

  • Anne G Arsenault May 9, 2020 at 11:28 am

    This poem about kindness reflects our current situation. We are isolated and often lonely. But thanking someone makes them feel loved and us feel lovingly connected.