507: Do You Ever Think About Leaving, My Mother Asks

507: Do You Ever Think About Leaving, My Mother Asks

507: Do You Ever Think About Leaving, My Mother Asks


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

After a summer of finally reuniting with friends and family, the pandemic has me retreating back inside, to my small life in Kentucky. I fill the feeder and watch the birds. I watch the geese going loudly overhead toward warmer waters. It’s hard to not want to be going somewhere too, to be with my family again. So much of our life is spent wishing.

About 15 years ago, I worked in an office in a high rise in the middle of Times Square in New York City. I was struggling to be happy. Everyone I knew was struggling to be happy in a place that felt so vibrant but also full of concrete. I missed trees. I worked late hours. I ate all three meals at my desk. I was grateful for the good job that would pay my rent. And still, I missed my family.

One day, a cardboard box arrived from the mailroom. I could smell it before it was even placed on my desk, my grandmother’s handwriting scrawled on the label. The whole office immediately smelled like lemons. My grandma and my grandpa had picked dozens of Meyer lemons from their tree in Southern California and sent them to me 3000 miles away in New York City. It felt like a spell. Lemons remind me of home. The bright acid smell of their skin. Their impossible glow. It felt like holding a box of light. 

Today’s poem by Angela María Spring is about those moments when it feels like no place is safe and suffering is all around us, and still a box of light arrives and reminds us of what we have reminds us to choose each other, to choose this moment. 

Do You Ever Think About Leaving, My Mother Asks
by Angela María Spring

on her seventieth birthday, though she does not look
even sixty, a blessing many Boricuas wear, and I say

where can we go, where is better, even now
green plantains fat in a vase above the kitchen sink,

thrust up toward sky, three mangoes heavy, grand
on the counter, the college girl my in-laws pay to grocery

shop found them amidst all this sickness, they showed
up on my doorstep and I nearly cried, held the bag

over my eleven month old, he loves mangoes the most,
as much as I do, as much as his abue, whom he cannot touch.

Instead he places his tiny hands to hers on the windowpane
each time she drops off packages full of fruit empanadas,

long, skinny baguettes, bright yellow packets of seasoning.
I slide my quarantine-eked arroz con pollo and galletas

between her presents, wiped clean, left outside my welcome
mat, six feet six feet six feet our new prayer and a high-desert

front yard, lizards scuttle through the rose bushes, the sun
already pours its heat thick like summer syrup, soon the baby

turns one and my mother will find a way to bake him cake
with rationed flour and then it will be June, July with its violent
rains, but where can we go, where is better, even now,
tell me where is the monsoon season gentle.

"Do You Ever Think About Leaving, My Mother Asks" by Angela María Spring. Used by permission of the poet.