I measure every Grief I meet With narrow, probing, eyes – I wonder if It weighs like Mine – Or has an Easier size. I wonder if They bore it long – Or did it just begin – I could not tell the Date of Mine – It feels so old a pain – I wonder if it hurts to live – And if They have to try – And whether – could They choose between – It would not be – to die – I note that Some – gone patient long – At length, renew their smile – An imitation of a Light That has so little Oil – I wonder if when Years have piled – Some Thousands – on the Harm – That hurt them early – such a lapse Could give them any Balm – Or would they go on aching still Through Centuries of Nerve – Enlightened to a larger Pain – In Contrast with the Love – The Grieved – are many – I am told – There is the various Cause – Death – is but one – and comes but once – And only nails the eyes – There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold – A sort they call "Despair" – There's Banishment from native Eyes – In sight of Native Air – And though I may not guess the kind – Correctly – yet to me A piercing Comfort it affords In passing Calvary – To note the fashions – of the Cross – And how they're mostly worn – Still fascinated to presume That Some – are like my own –
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl— Life's little duties do—precisely— As the very least Were infinite—to me— I put new Blossoms in the Glass— And throw the old—away— I push a petal from my gown That anchored there—I weigh The time 'twill be till six o'clock I have so much to do— And yet—Existence—some way back— Stopped—struck—my ticking—through— We cannot put Ourself away As a completed Man Or Woman—When the Errand's done We came to Flesh—upon— There may be—Miles on Miles of Nought— Of Action—sicker far— To simulate—is stinging work— To cover what we are From Science—and from Surgery— Too Telescopic Eyes To bear on us unshaded— For their—sake—not for Ours— Twould start them— We—could tremble— But since we got a Bomb— And held it in our Bosom— Nay—Hold it—it is calm— Therefore—we do life's labor— Though life's Reward—be done— With scrupulous exactness— To hold our Senses—on—
This poem is in the public domain.
It's a day when all the dogs of all the borrowed houses are angel footing down the hard hardwood of middle-America's newly loaned-up renovated kitchen floors, and the world's nicest pie I know is somewhere waiting for the right time to offer itself to the wayward and the word-weary. How come the road goes coast to coast and never just dumps us in the water, clean and come clean, like a fish slipped out of the national net of "longing for joy." How come it doesn't? Once, on a road trip through the country, a waitress walked in the train's diner car and swished her non-aproned end and said, "Hot stuff and food too." My family still says it, when the food is hot, and the mood is good inside the open windows. I'd like to wear an apron for you and come over with non-church sanctioned knee-highs and the prettiest pie of birds and ocean water and grief. I'd like to be younger when I do this, like the country before Mr. Meriwether rowed the river and then let the country fill him up till it killed him hard by his own hand. I'd like to be that dog they took with them, large and dark and silent and un-blamable. Or I'd like to be Emily Dickinson's dog, Carlo, and go on loving the rare un-loveable puzzle of woman and human and mind. But, I bet I'm more the house beagle and the howl and the obedient eyes of everyone wanting to make their own kind of America, but still be America, too. The road is long and all the dogs don't care too much about roadside concrete history and postcards of state treasures, they just want their head out the window, and the speeding air to make them feel faster and younger, and newer than all the dogs that went before them, they want to be your only dog, your best-loved dog, for this good dog of today to be the only beast that matters.
Copyright © 2012 by Ada Limón. Used with permission of the author.
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.
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let's be honest, I like
that they're ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don't you want to believe it?
Don't you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it's going to come in first.
From Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Used with permission from Milkweed Editions, milkweed.org.
The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets’
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps
the truth is that every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we absent-mindedly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the shortgrass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.