Rumpus Original Poetry: “The Hurting Kind” by Ada Limón

By

 

 

 

The Hurting Kind

 

1.

On the plane I have a dream I’ve left half my
            torso on the back porch with my beloved. I have to go

back for it, but it’s too late, I’m flying
            and there’s only half of me.

Back in Texas, the flowers I’ve left on
            the counter have wilted and knocked over the glass—
I stay alone there so the flowers are more than flowers.

At the funeral parlor with my mother, we are holding her father’s suit,
            and she says, He’ll swim in these.

For a moment, I’m not sure what she means,
until I realize she means the clothes are too big.

I go with her like a shield in case they try to up-sell her—
            the ornate urn, the elaborate body box.

It is a nice bathroom in the funeral parlor,
            so I take the opportunity to change my tampon.

When I come out my mother says,
Did you have to change your tampon?

And it seems a vulgar life all at once. Or not
            vulgar, but not simple.

I’m driving her now to the Hillside Cemetery where we meet
            with Rosie who is so nice we want her to work
everywhere. Rosie as my dentist. Rosie as my president.

My shards are showing, I think. But I do not know what I mean
so I fix my face in the rearview, a face with thousands
            of headstones behind it. Minuscule flags, plastic flowers.

            You can’t sum it up, my mother says as we are driving
and the electronic voice repeats, Turn Left onto Wildwood Canyon Road,

so I turn left, happy for the mundane instructions. Let us robot at once.

Tell me where to go. Tell me how to get there.

She means a life, of course. You cannot sum it up.

 

2.

A famous poet said he never wanted to hear
another poem about a grandmother or a grandfather.

I imagine him with piles of faded yolk-colored paper,
overloaded with loops of swooping cursive, anemic lyrics

misspelling mourning and morning. But also, before they arrive,
there’s a desperate hand scribbling a memory, following

the cat of imagination into each room. What is lineage,
if not a gold thread of pride and guilt. She did what?

Once, when I thought I had decided not to have children,
a woman said, But who are you to kill your own bloodline?

I told my friend D that and she said, What if you want to kill
your own bloodline, kill like it’s your job? 

In the myth of La Llorona, she drowns her children
to destroy her cheating husband. But maybe she was just tired.

After her husband of 76 years has died, my grandmother,
(yes, I said it, grandmother, grandmother) leans to me and says,

Now teach me poetry.

 

3.

Sticky packs of photographs
heteromaniacal postcards.

The war.      The war.        The war.
Bikini girls, tight curls, the word gams.

Land boom. Atchison, Topeka
and the Santa Fe. Southern Pacific.

We ask my Grandma Allamay
about her mother for a form.

Records and wills. Evidence of life.
For a moment she can’t remember
her mother’s maiden name.

She says, Just tell them she never
wanted me. That should be enough.

“Red sadness is the secret
one,” writes Ruefle. Redlands

was named after the soil.
Allamay can still
hold a peach in her hand

and judge its number by
its size. Tell you where it
would go in the box

if you’re packing peaches
for a living. Which she did,

though she hated the way
the hairs hurt her hands.

 

4.

Why do we quickly dismiss our ancient ones? Before our phones
            stole the light of our faces, shiny and blue in the televised night,

our elders worked farms and butchered and trapped animals and swept houses
            and returned to each other after long hours and told stories.

In order for someone to be “good” do they have to have
            seen the full tilt world? Must they believe what we believe?

My grandmother keeps a picture of her president in the top drawer
            of her dresser, and once when she was delusional she dreamt

he had sent her and my grandfather on a trip to Italy.  He paid for it all,
            she kept repeating.

That same night on her ride to the hospital, she talks to the medical
            technician and says,

All my grandchildren are Mexican.

She says it proudly. She repeats it to me on the phone

 

5.

Once, a long time ago, we sat in the carport of my grandparents’
            house in Redlands, now stolen for eminent  domain,

now the hospital parking lot, no more coyotes or caves
            where the coyotes would live. Or the grandfather clock

in the house my grandfather built. The porch above the orchard.
            All gone.

We sat in the carport and watched the longest snake
            I’d ever seen undulate between the hanging succulents.

They told me not to worry, that the snake had a name,

             the snake was called a California King,

glossy black with yellow
            stripes like wonders wrapping around him.

My grandparents, my ancestors, told me never
            to kill a California King, benevolent

as they were, equanimous like earth or sky, not

            toothy like the dog Chacho who barked
at nearly every train whistle or roadrunner.

Before my grandfather died, I asked him what sort
            of horse he had growing up. He said,

Just a horse. My horse, with such a tenderness it
            rubbed the bones in the ribs all wrong.

I have always been too sensitive, a weeper
            from a long line of weepers.

I am the hurting kind. I keep searching for proof.

My grandfather carried that snake to the cactus,
            where all sharp things could stay safe.

 

6.

You can’t sum it up. A life.

I feel it moving through me, that snake,
            his horse Midge sturdy and nothing special,

traveling the canyons and the tumbleweeds
            hunting for rabbits before the war.

My grandmother picking peaches. Stealing
            the fruit from the orchards as she walked

home. No one said it was my job to remember.

            I took no notes though I’ve stared too long.
My grandfather, before he died, would have told

            anyone that would listen, that he was ordinary,

that his life was a good one, simple, he could never
            understand why anyone would want to write

it down. He would tell you straight up he wasn’t
            brave. And my grandmother would tell you right now

that he is busy getting the house ready for her. Visiting now
each night and even doing the vacuuming.

I imagine she’s right. It goes on and on, their story.
            They met in first grade in a one room school house,

I could have started there, but their story,
            their story is endless and ongoing. All of this

is a conjuring. I will not stop this reporting of attachments.
            There is evidence everywhere.

There’s a tree over his grave now, and soon her grave too

             though she is tough and says, If I ever die,

which is marvelous and maybe why she’s still alive.

I see the tree above the grave and think, I’m wearing

my heart on my leaves. My heart on my leaves.

Love ends. But what if it doesn’t?

***

Photograph of Ada Limón by Lucas Marquardt.


Ada Limón is the author of five books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her fourth book, Bright Dead Things, was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. More from this author →