The Carrying

reviewed by Maya Phillips

In her fifth collection, The Carrying, Ada Limón unspools anxieties, fears, and griefs with a tenderness that never fully descends into full-blown despair. Limón is a poet who imbues her work with a bevy of small gratitudes and joys that bolster even the heaviest lines, as in the alternatively somber and jubilant “Dead Stars”: “We’re dead stars too, my mouth is full / of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising.” There are poems of self-interrogation and disturbing discoveries like the stunning “The Vulture & the Body”: “Somedays there is a violent sister inside of me, and a red ladder that wants to go elsewhere.” The first and third sections of the book focus heavily on the speaker’s challenges conceiving a child, but the poems widen the frame beyond the theme, navigating the possibility of life as well as its loss, as in the poems “Prey” and “The Dead Boy.” The narrative poems traverse “ordinary wonders,” inviting us into domestic spaces—the home, the garden—frequented by dark portents and bad dreams. The book is never swallowed by the immensity of the weight it carries, even in its poems about the threat of men (“everywhere, unwelcome, / multicellular, touching us”) or the hypocrisy of America (“Perhaps, / the truth is, every song of this country / has an unsung third stanza, something brutal / snaking underneath us”). Instead Limón creates a world inhabited by fears and losses but not ruled by them, where a moth, a pistachio shell, even raindrops landing on stones are the most irreplaceable treasures: “I will / never get over making everything / such a big deal.”

This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2018.