Ada Limón’s fourth book of poetry, The Carrying, touches themes of family and the roles of family; parenting, and motherhood; and the changing roles we have in the ever-turning cycle of birth, aging, and death. It’s a collection studded with images anchoring the reader to the natural world around the speaker—from trellising tomatoes in the garden, to “the cold salt froth / of the Pacific,”* to watching eagles in a field.
These poems meditate on mortality and the fragile possibility of parenthood, but remain grounded in the natural world: full of strawberries and dandelions, goldfinches and other birds. Images of flight, and of horses running, thread throughout, motifs of movement that bring to mind freedom, potential, wild possibility.
Published in 2018, Limón’s poems and their speaker’s ranging thoughts on parenthood are often linked to this particular cultural moment—in the poem “What I Want to Remember,” the speaker, on a plane headed west, references the uniquely American horror of school shootings, recalling tranquil moments from her own childhood:
…I’m on a plane going west
and all the humans are so loud
it hurts the blood. But once I sat
next to a path that was still warm
from the day’s heat, cross-legged
with my friend named Echo who taught
me how to amplify the strange sound
the frogs made by cupping my ears.
I need to hold this close within me,
when today’s news is full of dead children,
their faces opening their mouths for air
that will not come. Once I was a child too…
How different, the speaker seems to ask, is a childhood now? What would childhood be like for a child of mine? Limón’s measured tone gives us the sense of a speaker who is tired and sad, and determined to look at the truth of things, however beautiful or unjust. And there are deeply beautiful moments throughout the collection, as when the speaker in “The Last Thing” recounts pieces of her day to her beloved:
…I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. … I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.
What’s the last poem you read?
*”Sometimes I Think My Body Leaves a Shape in the Air” by Ada Limón.