Ada Limon: What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use

If you like poetry and are not subscribed to Ted Kooser’s column you are missing a weekly treat. Reprinted with permission.
American Life in Poetry: Column 445


BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE 

Sit for an hour in any national airport and you’ll see how each of us differs from others in a million ways, and of course that includes not only our physical appearances but our perceptions and opinions. Here’s a poem by Ada Limón, who lives in Kentucky, about difference and the difficulty of resolution. 

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use 

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.


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American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Ada Limón, whose most recent book of poems is Sharks in the Rivers, Milkweed Editions, 2010. Poem reprinted from Poecology, Issue 1, 2011, by permission of Ada Limón and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
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W. H. Auden: Musee des Beaux Arts

Today is the anniversary of W. H. Auden’s death (Sept. 29, 1973). In this poem, Auden refers to several paintings by the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel. Hopefully the images I downloaded will come out clear enough. Even without the paintings, the poem is remarkable.

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Herman Melville on Butchers of the Bloodiest Badge

(Herman Melville, died Sept. 28, 1891)

Doubtless one leading reason why the world declines honoring us whalemen, is this: they think that, at best, our vocation amounts to a butchering sort of business, and that when actively engaged therein, we are surrounded by all manner of defilements. Butchers we are, that is true. But butchers also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably delights to honor.
                                                                 

when my time comes

when my time comes

these days I rarely
have a prayer to say

but one in my
stumbling way

to whatever
listening gods


when my time comes
let me be as the trees

releasing browning leaves
letting them tumble

gently down

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Goodness. It’s been a while. Tonight for dVerse Meeting the Bar, Victoria Slotto has tempted us to write a spicy, erotic, or touchy-subject poem (death, religion, politics, hot-button issues) using metaphor and image to elaborate the point. Of course I chose to write about death, a touchy subject for some people, with a little religion thrown in for good measure.