Hope is the hardest love we carry

Dear readers,

Here are two poems by the wonderful Ada Limón and Jane Hirshfield that I’m holding close to my heart as we enter a new year amidst a continually harrowing time, with shared heron imagery illustrated by my dear friend Kristina Closs. I’ve posted Ada’s poem before, but it’s become a touchstone for me over the years, and so I wanted to share it again.

Take care of yourselves, friends, and of each other. Here’s hoping for better days ahead and enduring reminders of the beauty that persists even in the darkest times.

Art by Kristina Closs

Hope and Love
by Jane Hirshfield

All winter
the blue heron
slept among the horses.
I do not know
the custom of herons,
do not know
if the solitary habit
is their way,
or if he listened for
some missing one—
not knowing even
that was what he did—
in the blowing
sounds in the dark,
I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
He slept
with his long neck
folded, like a letter
put away.

____________

The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road
by Ada Limón

That we might walk out into the woods together,
and afterwards make toast
in our sock feet, still damp from the fern’s
wet grasp, the spiky needles stuck to our
legs, that’s all I wanted, the dog in the mix,
jam sometimes, but not always. But somehow,
I’ve stopped praising you. How the valley
when you first see it—the small roads back
to your youth—is so painfully pretty at first,
then, after a month of black coffee, it’s just
another place your bullish brain exists, bothered
by itself and how hurtful human life can be.
Isn’t that how it is? You wake up some days
full of crow and shine, and then someone
has put engine coolant in the medicine
on another continent and not even crying
helps cure the idea of purposeful poison.
What kind of woman am I? What kind of man?
I’m thinking of the way my stepdad got sober,
how he never told us, just stopped drinking
and sat for a long time in the low folding chair
on the Bermuda grass reading and sometimes
soaking up the sun like he was the story’s only
subject. When he drove me to school, we decided
it would be a good day, if we saw the blue heron
in the algae-covered pond next to the road,
so that if we didn’t see it, I’d be upset. Then,
he began to lie. To tell me he’d seen it when
he hadn’t, or to suppose that it had just
taken off when we rounded the corner in
the gray car that somehow still ran, and I
would lie, too, for him. I’d say I saw it.
Heard the whoosh of wings over us.
That’s the real truth. What we told each other
to help us through the day: the great blue heron
was there, even when the pond dried up,
or froze over; it was there because it had to be.
Just now, I felt like I wanted to be alone
for a long time, in a folding chair on the lawn
with all my private agonies, but then I saw you
and the way you’re hunching over your work
like a puzzle, and I think even if I fail at everything,
I still want to point out the heron like I was taught,
still want to slow the car down to see the thing
that makes it all better, the invisible gift,
what we see when we stare long enough into nothing.

Let me slip into a life less messy.

Returning to one of my long-time favorites, Ada Limón (1976-), with this poem from her stunning 2015 collection, Bright Dead Things.

ada-limon-processed

“The Noisiness of Sleep”

Careful of what I carry
in my head and in my hollow,

I’ve been a long time worried
about grasping infinity

and coaxing some calm
out of the softest part

of the pins and needles
of me. I’d like to take a nap.

But not a nap that’s eternal,
a nap where you wake up

having dreamt of falling, but
you’ve only fallen into

an ease so unknown to you
it looks like a new country.

Let me slip into a life less messy.
Let me slip into your sleeve.

Be very brave about my
trespass, the plan is simple—

the plan is the clock tower
and the lost crow. It’ll be rich.

We’ll live forever. Every moon
will be a moon of surrender

and lemon seeds. You there,
standing up in the crowd,

I’m not proud. The stove
can’t boast of the meal.

All this to say—consider this,
with your combination of firefly

and train whistle, consider this,
with your maze and steel,

I want to be the rough clothes
you can’t sleep in.

we take the moon into the middle of our brains

On this Monday morning I share with you another lovely, thoughtful gem from one of my favorite 2016 poetry collections, Bright Dead Things, by Ada Limón (1976-).

adalimon

“We Are Surprised”

Now, we take the moon
into the middle of our brains

so we look like roadside stray cats
with bright flashlight-white eyes

in our faces, but no real ideas
of when or where to run.

We linger on the field’s green edge
and say, Someday son, none of this

will be yours. Miracles are all around.
We’re not so much homeless

as we are home free, penny-poor,
but plenty lucky for love and leaves

that keep breaking the fall. Here it is:
the new way of living with the world

inside of us so we cannot lose it,
and we cannot be lost. You and me,

are us and them, and it and sky.
It’s hard to believe we didn’t

know that before; it’s hard to believe
we were so hollowed out, so drained,

only so we could shine a little harder
when the light finally came.