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.
From Sharks in the Rivers by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2010 by Ada Limón. Used by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved.
After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what's
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don't die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn't there still
something singing? The truth is: I don't know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don't die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.
Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.