Notes on the Below

Ada Limón - 1976-

—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.

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.

The Conditional

Say tomorrow doesn't come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun's a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl's eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon's a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt's plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen's a cow's corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn't matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you'd still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.


 

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Disciplines [Near adust. Caves. Closings]

Near adust. Caves. Closings. Relentlessly the body leaves the bed. Does things. A day is merry and eager for prosperity. It dings dings the bell in its own head. The ritual of masking the breasts in heavy fabric, of covering the legs and feet. A face from the mirror says, I am pretty, I am pretty. Skin of opening, meant for opening. A sex in training. Trimmed, fastidious. Damp reasoning. Yet, adherence. Mask the breasts. Mark the skin. You are not from here, are you? Part tissue. What does it feel like? It feels like everything else. It must be different from some other thing. No. This is what a woman's body is. An effort in covering or not covering. A way toward exits.