Vulnerable, tender, acute, these are serious poems, brave poems, exploring with honesty the ambiguous moment between the rapture of youth and the grace of acceptance. A daughter tends to aging parents. A woman struggles with infertility—“What if, instead of carrying / a child, I am supposed to carry grief?”—and a body seized by pain and vertigo as well as ecstasy. A nation convulses: “Every song of this country / has an unsung third stanza, something brutal.” And still Limón shows us, as ever, the persistence of hunger, love, and joy, the dizzying fullness of our too-short lives. “Fine then, / I’ll take it,” she writes. “I’ll take it all.”
In Bright Dead Things, Limón showed us a heart “giant with power, heavy with blood”—“the huge beating genius machine / that thinks, no, it knows, / it’s going to come in first.” In her follow-up collection, that heart is on full display—even as The Carrying continues further and deeper into the bloodstream, following the hard-won truth of what it means to live in an imperfect world.
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I’d forgotten how much
I like to grow things, I shout
to him as he passes me to paint
the basement. I’m trellising
the tomatoes in what’s called
a Florida weave. Later, we try
to knock me up again. We do it
in the guest room because that’s
the extent of our adventurism
in a week of violence in Florida
and France. Afterwards,
the sun still strong though lowering
inevitably to the horizon, I check
on the plants in the back, my
fingers smelling of sex and tomato
vines. Even now, I don’t know much
about happiness. I still worry
and want an endless stream of more,
but some days I can see the point
in growing something, even if
it’s just to say I cared enough.
When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five-minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterwards. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin, but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
the storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antila, Centarus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
Standing at the swell of the muddy Mississippi
after the Urgent Care doctor had just said, Well,
sometimes shit happens, I fell fast and hard
for New Orleans all over again. Pain pills swirled
in the purse along with a spell for later. It’s taken
a while for me to admit, I am in a raging battle
with my body, a spinal column thirty-five degrees
bent, vertigo that comes and goes like a DC Comics
villain nobody can kill. Invisible pain is both
a blessing and a curse. You always look so happy,
said a stranger once as I shifted to my good side
grinning. But that day, alone on the riverbank,
brass blaring from the Steamboat Natchez,
out of the corner of my eye, I saw a girl, maybe half my age,
dressed, for no apparent reason, as Wonder Woman.
She strutted by in all her strength and glory, invincible,
eternal, and when I stood to clap (because who wouldn’t have),
she bowed and posed like she knew I needed a myth,
—a woman, by a river, indestructible.
The Year of the Goldfinches
There were two that hung and hovered
by the mud puddle and the musk thistle.
Flitting from one splintered fence post
to another, bathing in the rainwater’s glint
like it was a mirror to some other universe
where things were more acceptable, easier
than the place I lived. I’d watch for them:
the bright peacocking male, the low-watt
female on each morning walk, days spent
digging for some sort of elusive answer
to the question my curving figure made.
Later, I learned that they were a symbol
of resurrection. Of course they were,
my two yellow-winged twins feasting
on thorns and liking it.
Table of ContentsContents
How Most of the Dreams Go
On a Pink Moon
The Vulture&the Body
Dream of the Raven
Late Summer after a Panic Attack
Dream of Destruction
The Burying Beetle
How We Are Made
The Light the Living See
The Dead Boy
What I Want to Remember
The Millionth Dream of Your Return
Bald Eagles in a Field
I’m Sure about Magic
The Real Reason
The Year of the Goldfinches
Notes on the Below
Sundown and All the Damage Done
On a Lamp Post Long Ago
Dream of the Men
A New National Anthem
The Contract Says: We’d Like the Conversation to Be Bilingual
Instructions on Not Giving Up
Would You Rather
Maybe I’ll Be Another Kind of Mother
What I Didn’t Know Before
The Last Thing
Love Poem with Apologies for My Appearance
Sometimes I Think My Body Leaves a Shape in the Air
From the Ash Inside the Bone
Time Is on Fire
After the Fire
The Last Drop
After His Ex Died
Sparrow, What Did You Say?