As Americans gather for Thanksgiving in a nation battered and brought low by rampant disease and division, you may ask: What in this of all years do we have to be thankful for?

More than a quarter-million lives have been lost to a scourge that at this time last year no one knew existed. Wildfires and hurricanes have ravaged great swaths of the country. Trusted institutions — science, post offices, the vote — have been politically assaulted.

Jobs have disappeared. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. Lines stretch for blocks at food banks. Students cannot sit in classrooms or travel home from colleges without a face-masked ordeal of quarantine, swabs and evasive maneuvers. Neighbors cannot break bread safely around Thanksgiving tables, assuming they still have the will.

Yet gratitude persists. Last week, we asked poets laureate across the country why the people in their states would be thankful. They enthusiastically responded, some within minutes, many with poetry.

“I am thankful for friends,” wrote Nebraska’s state poet, Matt Mason:

for the palette of Nebraska

sunsets, for my family,

still alive, thank God,

thank the Med Center

“Lately, I’d been wanting a little light — and there it was,” wrote Karen Craigo of Missouri, describing a stand of small trees that “glowed like campfires” and made her think about other blessings.


In Maine, Stuart Kestenbaum summoned “gale force winds along the coast in the morning” and thanked the crew — “these men doing their jobs” — that repaired his downed power line in the dark, in head lamps.

“It’s not hard for Californians to know whom to thank in 2020,” wrote the state’s most recent poet laureate, Dana Gioia. “Four million acres of the Golden State went up in flames this fall. We thank — profoundly and prodigiously — the fire, police, and emergency personnel, as well as the prison volunteers, who risked their own safety to protect us.”

Oregon’s poet laureate, Anis Mojgani, was grateful, too, “for the earth still / having not released us.” His predecessor, Kim Stafford, recalling the catastrophic wildfires that swept through that state, wrote of another savior: “rain nipping flame’s root, gray mud of ash.”

And in Minnesota, Joyce Sutphen gave thanks for

snow that comes down from Canada

covering the leaves we didn’t rake

and how sometimes after that, we

get a heat wave and a second chance

to put things right in the world

Not all states responded. The New York Times request came with some prosaic conditions — 100 words or less on a newspaper deadline, a tall order for an exacting art form. Some states have no poet laureate. New Jersey abolished the post in 2003 amid controversy, and Idaho replaced it in the 1980s with a broader “writer-in-residence” appointment. The last full-time poet to hold that job, Diane Raptosh, who has also served as poet laureate of Boise, offered that state’s poem.

Still other states were between poets. In California, Gioia’s term ended in 2018 and the governor has yet to appoint a successor. Illinois had been without an official poet since 2017; we received submissions from its last laureate and the poet who succeeded him on Wednesday.

But the many writers who did respond reflected a widespread, if weary, appreciation, both for regional grit and more universal blessings. Many wrote, in these socially distanced times, of the humanity and fellowship around them.


Hawaii’s poet was grateful for “tight-knit island communities,” Wyoming’s for “neighbor helping neighbor / despite long distances,” and Alabama’s for a state where people “rally to help each other out in times of crisis.”

And North Carolina’s for “North Carolinians” and “the many ways we have gathered together to take care of each other.” And South Dakota’s for “food, resources, / each other — love and fear’s first real test.”

Paisley Rekdal of Utah wrote of “something unusual: crowds in the canyons.” Bobby LeFebre of Colorado reached out on social media to crowdsource that state’s thanks for “love, familia, health, work, creator, community, cultura / resilience, art, abolitionists, education, imagination, clarity / life, truth, weed,” and much more.

Beth Ann Fennelly of Mississippi was “grateful to be counted on: One Mississippi, Two. Grateful for the word y’all. Grateful for the emphatic all y’all.”

“After many and much / have been taken from us, we gather what remains / like hallowed guests at our otherwise empty table,” explained Kevin Stein, the last Illinois poet laureate, who was succeeded by Angela Jackson.

She was grateful for “waystations / Peopled with all kinds / Of people — / All colors / A One / In the Land of Lincoln.” Similarly, Virginia’s poet laureate, Luisa A. Igloria, recalled the toppling of Confederate monuments in the racial reckoning of the summer and gave thanks “for the thousand-thousand bodies / marching in the hearts of grieving, / inflamed cities.”


M.L. Smoker and Melissa Kwasny, Montana’s poets laureate, wrote jointly that “after 125 years, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians was finally granted federal recognition.” Next door, Raptosh wrote four “Gratitude Sonnets,” praying that the “vowels within Idaho” can “slipper us into some new, non-tribal unities.”

Kari Gunter-Seymour of Ohio name-checked Zoom, “a window of windows inside a dollhouse,” and she was not the only one. Grace Cavalieri of Maryland thanked it for bringing poetry, which “can’t be stopped by calamity.” Alexandria Peary wrote that people in New Hampshire were glad to look up from it and “see Mount Washington in their living room window.”

“Thank you for drawing the crow outside my window,” wrote Mary Ruefle of Vermont. “Thank you for drawing the wrinkled bittersweet berries.” Tina Cane of Rhode Island cited “sweeping ocean views / that give a sense of peace and wonder and hope, some space to rest.”

In New Mexico, Levi Romero was “thankful for remedios, te de cota, manzanilla, osha,” and in Kansas, Huascar Medina wrote, gratefully, that “some of us are going to save a lot on our small Thanksgiving dinners,” including, perhaps, one another. Larry Woiwode in North Dakota thanked the “dual poles of the Dakota mind: / Faith and work” and between them, another remedy: “the common Act of art.”

In Kentucky, Jeff Worley offered art, too — a sampler of books by his state’s writers and poets. Chelsea Rathburn in Georgia, looking at a picture her daughter made last Thanksgiving, asked her what she was grateful for in 2020. “That this year is nearly over,” the 8-year-old replied.

Delaware’s poets, the twin brothers Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha, saluted their fellow Delawarean, President-elect Joe Biden. And Peter Meinke wrote an ode to Florida, which “voted for Trump and would again if given a chance.”


Running through the responses was a thread: gratitude just to still be here. Maybe that’s appropriate for a holiday that we trace to Pilgrims who were desperate not to die of starvation, and that was made official by a Civil War president who was desperate for his divided nation to have something, anything, in common, even just one meal in November.

Still, it is striking: On a day we have come to celebrate for comity and plenty, we stand apart this year and give thanks, even in our poetry, for simple survival.

“You see we’re still holding on here just enough,” wrote Marc Harshman, the poet laureate of West Virginia, “despite all we’re doing wrong.”

We received nearly three dozen submissions in all. Here is a sampling:

Stuart Kestenbaum

poet laureate of Maine

Gale force winds along the coast in the morning, gusting up to 60 miles per hour. A Norway Maple comes down in our back yard, falling on both cars, taking down the power line, and ripping the cable and electrical meter right off the side of the house. We call the power company. There are power outages throughout Maine and the crews have to wait until the wind dies down. Around 9:00 pm we hear the bucket truck pulling up. Two men, one just starting out, the other a veteran, get out, turn their head lamps on and work in the dark, lifting the line and reattaching it. We thank them, these men doing their jobs. Line by line, through the woods, off miles of two-lane roads, power gets restored. “You’re our last stop for the night,” one says. “We’re going home for supper after this.”

Kari Gunter-Seymour

poet laureate of Ohio

“By All Indications”

I spent time today studying

forehead lines, linked into yet another

Zoom meeting, my screen a window

of windows inside a dollhouse.

I like to think I have good ears

and what I hear from Ohioans

is this — grateful.

Grateful for a governor who believes

in masks and distancing, feeding

displaced school children and poetry.

Grateful for an unusual autumn of sun

and balmy breezes prevailing

well into November, leaves clinging

to their colors like a Matisse painting

or a toddler with a fist of Crayolas.

The election is over. Time moves,

then moves again and forehead lines

are bar charts, flesh and bone

diagrams of courage.

Kevin Stein

former poet laureate of Illinois

After Many and Much

have been taken from us, we gather what remains

like hallowed guests at our otherwise empty table.

Feast of hunger, insatiable if consolable, we welcome

the checkout girl whose eyes smile above her mask,

our improv Zoom bedtime stories, his smile-pained wave

behind panes of glass, corn in its bin and acres harrowed


before snows, assembly lines birthing their progeny,

the crimson maple leaf alighted in a boy’s front-porch lap,

the ballot cast, the television muted like index to lips,

shoosh — This sudden apothecary of hope like sugar

upon the tongue, your ungloved hand in mine.

Beth Ann Fennelly

poet laureate of Mississippi

Grateful for old men, white and Black, weathered as the sweet potatoes they hawk from the beds of their pickups at every other highway exit. Grateful for the sweet-potato-colored dirt those tubers are pulled from. Grateful for bales of hay, both blocky like Legos and round like sushi. Not grateful for sushi in Mississippi, but for 16/20 gulf shrimp sold in coolers at Texacos. Grateful for the mystery of tamales. For fireflies, bald cypress, magnolia green jumper spiders. Grateful to launch ruby-throats over the gulf each autumn. Grateful to be their welcome mat come spring. Grateful to be counted on: One Mississippi, Two. Grateful for the word y’all. Grateful for the emphatic all y’all. For all y’all in this state of hospitality: Grateful.

Anis Mojgani

poet laureate of Oregon

thankful for the bend

without the break

the branch beneath the weight of the finch

lightboned they be

the shake of a fir to alight a sky

for the earth

still having not released us

from their embrace

their rivers that peak

those stars

on clear nights

swimming through both

for the crows

consistent in their caw

as if saying wake

the morning lies in the street

wanting of me to be bronzed with its kiss

that every day in my city

the people strengthen together

for something unseen and powerful

for somewhere in the distance

the ocean calling

like an answer

lifting toward a grace

spoken for someone else

coming back to that which had tossed it

from where it had been thrown

Kim Stafford

former poet laureate of Oregon

“In Fire Season, Rain”

The soft smoke of hard rain

drilling down through tree bones.

The hiss and steam of quenched fire —

rain nipping flame’s root, gray mud of ash.

Rain tap slapping your hat. Rain gloves.

Rain making your coat heavy, your neck cold.

Rain washing what was seared, culled, fallen, lost.

Where fire fed, rain offering rest, restoration.

Rain turning eye-salt to rivulets, rivulets

to rivers wheresoever many weep as one.

Rain thrust deep in earth, seeking seeds.

Rain taking its own sweet time.

Earth’s thirst for first rain —

never to be cursed again.

Christine Stewart-Nuñez

poet laureate of South Dakota

The pandemic puts pressure on love

and presents fear with a new playground.

Love’s learning to teach our sons art,

math, reading; it’s cooking three meals a day

and remote working under the microscope

of one another’s gaze. Unmoored, we click

on graphs, charts, photos. Testimonies

of the sick, the dead, and the survivors

shape and story our fears. Metaphor falters

when we scrutinize the data, and we can’t

find beauty there. Love’s reaching for

each other only to find our scars relaxed.

Inside these walls, we have food, resources,

each other — love and fear’s first real test.

Matt Mason

Nebraska state poet

“When Asked What I Am Thankful For”

I am thankful for friends,

for the palette of Nebraska

sunsets, for my family,

still alive, thank God,

thank the Med Center (UNMC)

who’s held back this flood

(so far)

despite my elected representatives’ best

negligence, thankful

for my Hawaiian-print face mask, for this

red sofa I commute to for work,

thankful not to

work at UNMC, at a middle school,

a rural highway packing plant,

Harley dealership in the Sand Hills,

which means I am thankful,

horribly, for the

luck of this landing,

for the bullet

that hits next to me,

the guilt

walking with me

in this wide sky silence,

following every step.

Larry Woiwode

poet laureate of North Dakota

“Thanksgiving, 2020”

On North Dakota’s wrinkled, ironed plain,

A rise or hill can seem a monument,

Reminding one of Calvary, Zion’s reign,

With trios of crosses crowning tented

Buttes, emblems of renewal and maybe more.

On other hills and mesas metal monsters

Proffer broken necks — threshing machines, a score

Or more, tokens to combines bankers sponsor,

Their computer antics superintended by

A farmer freed from labor of the kind

That felled his father generations shy

Of 2020; dual poles of the Dakota mind:

Faith and work. Between the two, in every

Village, township, town-hall stage — drama,

Dance, sad comedy, trumpet up the common

Act of art, an exercise in love and praise

That will occur on this of all Thanksgiving Days.

Karen Craigo

poet laureate of Missouri

“Last Scraps of Color in Missouri”

Today I passed a stand

of trees: tall, closely packed,

bare and almost black

from rain. But underneath,

I saw smaller trees, just

getting started on their slow

snatch-and-grab of sky,

and I saw these were golden

still, and they glowed

like campfires in the dark.

Lately I’d been wanting

a little light — and there it was,

and all I had to do was turn

my gaze a few degrees

from center. Some blessings

find us when we move to them —

they’re waiting only to be seen.

Near the end of a difficult year,

may we spot the light,

as we breathe in prayer

or supplication: Show me,

Show Me, show me.

Luisa A. Igloria

poet laureate of Virginia

“The New York Times ranked the Robert E. Lee monument, in its current form, as the most influential work of American protest art since World War II. The 130-year-old monument honoring the Confederate general has been covered in graffiti since early June when protests and social unrest gripped Richmond, and the nation, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.” — Richmond News

“Poem With Statues Falling”

It was the summer we took

heads, toppled statues of despots

& slaveholders off their gleaming

plinths; elsewhere, tipped them

into the oily depths of rivers.

It was the summer we gave thanks

for the thousand-thousand bodies

marching in the hearts of grieving,

inflamed cities — how they brought

brave songs & chants, paint &

chalk, words & light to project

the hopes which we must bind

together so we become our own

living, breathing monuments.

Eugene M. Gagliano

poet laureate of Wyoming

“The Blessing of Wyoming”

Wyoming residents

are grateful having been spared

much of the suffering.

We enjoyed fresh air outdoors,

free to roam vast grasslands,

massive mountains carved by nature,

furrowed deep canyons, and valleys

sewn together by icy streams.

We watched herds

of mountain reigning elk

and prairie pronghorn.

Each new day was a gift.

Even the drought and winds

couldn’t dry out our spirit.

Board games, puzzles and books

became important again.

We looked after each other

neighbor helping neighbor

despite long distances.

We nourished our faith and

appreciated more family time.

We reached out to old friends

became even more aware of

the people and the natural

blessings of Wyoming.

Joyce Sutphen

poet laureate of Minnesota

“Thanks, With Northern Lights”

In Minnesota, from Main Street

to Highway 61, from Paisley Park

to Park Rapids, we’re thankful for

snow that comes down from Canada

covering the leaves we didn’t rake

and how sometimes after that, we

get a heat wave and a second chance

to put things right in the world

so we can meet our friends in a park

and savor being together (safely

apart). We feel so lucky that we smile

our biggest smiles behind our masks,

making our eyes crinkle and shine

like the elusive Northern Lights.

Angela Jackson

poet laureate of Illinois

“Giving Thanks Illinois, 2020”

We give thanks —

For red cardinals that appear


For violets, pristine and tender,

And tall white oaks

That bear

The weight of midwestern winds

Moving across the prairie



For the kiss of the Great Lake

Michigan, on a Big Chicago, bodacious and bursting With promises

Thanks for the lakes and rivers that flow through A state of dreams and blood and tears, Thin rivers of toil that lace the land

And a Big River, Mississippi,

That runs.

Thanks for mid-cities churning industry For rural places poised on tractors

And waystations

Peopled with all kinds

Of people —

All colors

A One

In the Land of Lincoln

Lifting Freedom, Union, yes

We pray for each other

In all our heartbreaks.

We give thanks

For hope,

For family, for dear ones,

And neighbors

For “I love you”

Written on the red wings of cardinals,

On the sweet petals of violets,

On the strong brown branches of oaks.

We give thanks,

Thanks and thanks.