instructions on not giving up :: ada limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

what i didn’t know before :: ada limón

was how horses simply give birth to other
horses. Not a baby by any means, not
a creature of liminal spaces, but already
a four-legged beast hellbent on walking,
scrambling after the mother. A horse gives way
to another horse and then suddenly there are
two horses, just like that. That’s how I loved you.
You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying
a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two
computers swinging in it unwieldily at your
side. I remember we broke into laughter
when we saw each other. What was between
us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed
over. It came out fully formed, ready to run.

after the fire :: ada limón

You ever think you could cry so hard
that there’d be nothing left in you, like
how the wind shakes a tree in a storm
until every part of it is run through with
wind? I live in the low parts now, most
days a little hazy with fever and waiting
for the water to stop shivering out of the
body. Funny thing about grief, its hold
is so bright and determined like a flame,
like something almost worth living for.

we are surprised :: ada limón

Now, we take the moon
into the middle of our brains

so we look like roadside stray cats
with bright flashlight-white eyes

in our faces, but no real ideas
of when or where to run.

We linger on the field’s green edge
and say, Someday son, none of this

will be yours. Miracles are all around.
We’re not so much homeless

as we are home free, penny-poor,
but plenty lucky for love and leaves

that keep breaking the fall. Here it is:
the new way of living with the world

inside of us so we cannot lose it,
and we cannot be lost. You and me,

are us and them, and it and sky.
It’s hard to believe we didn’t

know that before; it’s hard to believe
we were so hollowed out, so drained,

only so we could shine a little harder
when the light finally came.

after his ex died :: ada limón

We were quick to tell each other what we wanted. I said, I want to be cremated and then I want my ashes to be tossed in the Pacific and the Atlantic. He said I was greedy for wanting both coasts, but he’d do it. I made it specific: Herring Cove in Cape Cod and Salmon Creek on the Sonoma Coast (but also, I was thinking of the Calabazas Creek in Glen Ellen). He said any horse farm will do for him, and then he corrected himself to just any pretty pasture. He said we don’t believe in the afterlife. I stopped him and said, I don’t believe in God, but I do have some very interesting thoughts concerning ghosts. What he was trying to say, if I’d stop talking about ghosts for once, is that it’s important to have a spot to visit: a tree, a rock, any place where you can think of that person. We’ve got her two old cats downstairs now, hiding behind the water heater, the stairs, hissing and purring both. Last night, I dreamt that she didn’t like me, wouldn’t let me in a car that everyone else was getting into. Or rather she took the last seat in the car and everyone drove off without me. But this morning, I kissed the man she used to love and one of her cats crawled in my lap.
 
 
Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall 2017

torn :: ada limón

Witness the wet dead snake,
its long hexagonal pattern weaved
around its body like a code for creation,
curled up cold on the newly tarred road.
Let us begin with the snake: the fact
of death, the poverty of place, of skin
and surface. See how the snake is cut
in two–its body divided from its brain.
Imagine now, how it moves still, both
sides, the tail dancing, the head dancing.
Believe it is the mother and the father.
Believe it is the mouth and the words.
Believe it is the sin and the sinner–
the tempting, the taking, the apple, the fall,
every one of us guilty, the story of us all.
But then return to the snake, pitiful dead
thing, forcefully denying the split of its being,
longing for life back as a whole, wanting
you to see it for what it is: something
that loves itself so much it moves across
the boundaries of death to touch itself
once more, to praise both divided sides
equally, as if it was easy.
 
 
from Bright Dead Things (2015)

before :: ada limón

No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.

this practice :: ada limón

They say the first thing that goes
is the short-term memory. You forget
your keys, you forget your address,
you forget the name of the president.
I like to think it’s just a matter of practice—
we’ve had more time to practice the memory
of our favorite light, our brother’s face, the
creek that runs down the center of our town.
I want to practice. Like the Russian soldier
who had to make up a word to say how
hard he would fight, said he would fight
“fiercefully,” that’s how I will remember you,
that’s how I will practice—“fiercefully.”

the conditional :: ada limón

Say tomorrow doesn’t come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun’s a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl’s eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon’s a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt’s plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen’s a cow’s corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.
 
 
from Bright Dead Things (2015)

crush :: ada limón

Maybe my limbs are made
mostly for decoration,
like the way I feel about
persimmons. You can’t
really eat them. Or you
wouldn’t want to. If you grab
the soft skin with your fist
it somehow feels funny,
like you’ve been here
before and uncomfortable,
too, like you’d rather
squish it between your teeth
impatiently, before spitting
the soft parts back up
to linger on the tongue like
burnt sugar or guilt.
For starters, it was all
an accident, you cut
the right branch
and a sort of light
woke up underneath,
and the inedible fruit
grew dark and needy.
Think crucial hanging.
Think crayon orange.
There is one low, leaning
heart-shaped globe left
and dearest, can you
tell, I am trying
to love you less.

what it looks like to us and the words we use :: ada limón

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

the noisiness of sleep :: ada limón

Careful of what I carry
in my head and in my hollow,

I’ve been a long time worried
about grasping infinity

and coaxing some calm
out of the softest part

of the pins and needles
of me. I’d like to take a nap.

But not a nap that’s eternal,
a nap where you wake up

having dreamt of falling, but
you’ve only fallen into

an ease so unknown to you
it looks like a new country.

Let me slip into a life less messy.
Let me slip into your sleeve.

Be very brave about my
trespass, the plan is simple—

the plan is the clock tower
and the lost crow. It’ll be rich.

We’ll live forever. Every moon
will be a moon of surrender

and lemon seeds. You there,
standing up in the crowd,

I’m not proud. The stove
can’t boast of the meal.

All this to say—consider this,
with your combination of firefly

and train whistle, consider this,
with your maze and steel,

I want to be the rough clothes
you can’t sleep in.

sharks in the rivers :: ada limón

We’ll say unbelievable things
to each other in the early morning—

our blue coming up from our roots,
our water rising in our extraordinary limbs.

All night I dreamt of bonfires and burn piles
and ghosts of men, and spirits
behind those birds of flame.

I cannot tell anymore when a door opens or closes,
I can only hear the frame saying, Walk through.

It is a short walkway—
into another bedroom.

Consider the handle. Consider the key.

I say to a friend, how scared I am of sharks.

How I thought I saw them in the creek
across from my street.

I once watched for them, holding a bundle
of rattlesnake grass in my hand,
shaking like a weak-leaf girl.

She sends me an article from a recent National Geographic that says,

Sharks bite fewer people each year than
New Yorkers do, according to Health Department records.

Then she sends me on my way. Into the City of Sharks.

Through another doorway, I walk to the East River saying,

Sharks are people too.
Sharks are people too.
Sharks are people too.

I write all the things I need on the bottom
of my tennis shoes. I say, Let’s walk together.

The sun behind me is like a fire.
Tiny flames in the river’s ripples.

I say something to God, but he’s not a living thing,
so I say it to the river, I say,

I want to walk through this doorway
But without all those ghosts on the edge,
I want them to stay here.
I want them to go on without me.

I want them to burn in the water.