—For Mammoth Cave National Park
Humongous cavern, tell me, wet limestone, sandstone caprock,
bat-wing, sightless translucent cave shrimp,
this endless plummet into more of the unknown,
how one keeps secrets for so long.
All my life, I’ve lived above the ground,
car wheels over paved roads, roots breaking through concrete,
and still I’ve not understood the reel of this life’s purpose.
Not so much living, but a hovering without sense.
What’s it like to be always night? No moon, but a few lit up
circles at your many openings. Endless dark, still time
must enter you. Like a train, like a green river?
Tell me what it is to be the thing rooted in shadow.
To be the thing not touched by light (no that’s not it)
to not even need the light? I envy; I envy that.
Desire is a tricky thing, the boiling of the body’s wants,
more praise, more hands holding the knives away.
I’ve been the one who has craved and craved until I could not see
beyond my own greed. There’s a whole nation of us.
To forgive myself, I point to the earth as witness.
To you, your Frozen Niagara, your Fat Man’s Misery,
you with your 400 miles of interlocking caves that lead
only to more of you, tell me,
what it is to be quiet, and yet still breathing.
Ruler of the Underlying, let me
speak to both the dead and the living as you do. Speak
to the ruined earth, the stalactites, the eastern small-footed bat,
to honor this: the length of days. To speak to the core
that creates and swallows, to speak not always to what’s
shouting, but to what’s underneath asking for nothing.
I am at the mouth of the cave. I am willing to crawl.
Copyright © 2016 by Ada Limón. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 29, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.
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 Antlia, Centaurus,
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?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.