Give Me This

- 1976-

I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.

More by Ada Limón

Sharks in the Rivers

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.

Roadside Attractions with the Dogs of America

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.

Before

No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.

Related Poems

María Cristina Hanging Chrysalis

What would I do
for a smidgeon
of your rebellion María?
As a woman to trust
the halo of your intuition
I know you know
courage plummets
easily from cliffs of doubt
both imposed and self harvested—
How to make manifest
what the mind knows
but the eye cannot yet see?
How to pluck Hope 
from the terraced gardens
where it grows?
I think about the nature of change
the transfiguration from grain to woman
the audacity of salt to embolden water into ocean
the urge to break free

Octopus Empire

What if the submarine
is praying for a way
it can poison the air,
in which some of them have
leaped for a few seconds,
felt its suffocating
rejected buoyancy.
Something floats above their
known world leading a wake
of uncountable death.
What if they organized
into a rebellion?

Now scientists have found
a group of octopuses
who seem to have a sense
of community, who
live in dwellings made of
gathered pebbles and shells,
who cooperate, who
defend an apparent
border. Perhaps they’ll have
a plan for the planet
in a millennium
or two. After we’re gone.

I Won't Wash the Dishes Anymore

Translated from Portuguese by John Keene

I won’t wash the dishes anymore
Or dust the furniture
I'm sorry
I've begun to read
The other day I opened a book and a week later I decided
I won't carry the trash out to the trash bin
Or clean up the mess of leaves falling in the yard
I'm sorry
After reading I noticed each dish has its own aesthetic,
an aesthetic of traces, of ethics, of static
I look at my hands as they flip the books' pages
Hands much softer than they were before
I feel that I can start to be all the time
I feel. If something happens
I am not going to wash anymore. Nor bring
your rugs in for dry cleaning
My eyes grow teary
I'm sorry
Now that I've begun to read I want to understand,
why, why?
And why
things exist
I read and I read and I read
I even smiled
And left the beans to burn. . .
See, the beans always take time to cook
Let’s just say things are different now. . . .
Ah, I forgot to say
I won’t do it any more
I've resolved to have some time for myself
I've resolved to read about what's going on between us
Don't wait for me
Don't call for me
I won’t be going
From everything I've ever read, from everything I understand
It was you who went
Went too far, for too long, past the alphabet
It had to be spelled out for you
I won’t wash things to cover up the true filth
Or dust things clean and scatter the dust from here to there and from there to here
I'll disinfect my hands and avoid your moving parts
I won't touch alcohol
After so many years literate
I’ve learned to read
After so much time together
I’ve learned to make a break

My sneaker from your shoe
My drawer from your ties
My perfume from your scent
My canvas from your frame
That's how it is, I’m not washing a thing anymore
And I stare at the filth at the bottom of the glass

The moment always arrives
of shaking things up, of moving forward, of making sense of things
I do not wash dishes anymore
I read the signature on my Emancipation Proclamation in black capital letters,
size 18, double-spaced
I set myself free

I do not wash dishes anymore
I want silver platters
Deluxe kitchens
And gold jewelry
The real kind

So is the Emancipation Proclamation decreed