National Poetry Month 2013, Week Four: Ada Limón’s “Sharks in the Rivers”

April 27, 2013

adalimonAda Limón’s poetic world is one where dislocation leads to an opening up rather than a shutting down, an unfolding rather than sequestration, and where doors are open, not closed. She isn’t afraid to confront her emotions or to let the reader in to observe her reactions to those emotions.

Yet, Limón’s is not a confessional poetry or, at least, not in the derogatory sense of that word. Limón tells stories and she’s proud of that fact.

“It’s ingrained in human nature to crave stories,” Limón explained in an interview. “We want them read to us as children, to be told around the fire, we want to see ourselves, our lives in these stories, and to have a sense of both escapism and transformation. People don’t know that poetry can do that, because they have the preconceived notion that poems take a tremendous amount of work to even comprehend, let alone be moved by.”

Her poems are not meant solely for the page, but to be read aloud. Her language is fluid, whether describing dreams or reality or the blurring between the two.

As Jeffrey Cyphers Wright wrote in The Brooklyn Rail, “She personalizes her homilies, stamping them with the authenticity of invention and self-discovery.”

Born March 28, 1976, Ada Limón is originally from Sonoma, California, and now divides her time between there and Lexington, Kentucky. Her first collection of poetry, lucky wreck, won the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize. She is also the author of This Big Fake World, winner of the 2005 Pearl Poetry Prize, and Sharks in the Rivers (Milkweed Editions, 2010).

Here is Ada Limón’s poem, “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.

 

 

–Ada Limón

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