I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
For someone who has dedicated her whole life to the value and power of language, you’d be surprised at how often I have found words failing me. When someone has experienced loss or great pain, it’s so hard to find the right thing to say. I’m sorry feels so easy, so banal. My old neighbor in Kentucky used to say, “I hate it for you.” Which had a certain ring to it, but still didn’t seem to do enough.
Or when I love someone, appreciate them, want to hold them up to the world and shout their excellent qualities, even then, words can fail. I say, I love you and I want to say one thousand other things that could deepen it, could round out what I really mean. Love seems like a word not big enough, not wide enough, not unique enough to say what it is I really feel. And this is coming from someone who writes love poems.
And then there are times when words are misunderstood, twisted. This is the tricky business of language. To get it right is consequential and important, but to recognize that it fails is also essential to how we connect with one another.
It’s the nod to a stranger, the body language when things are lost in translation, the tender touch, the gift left by the front door, the cup of tea delivered to the desk, the smile under the mask that shows someone with your eyes that you’re okay.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been struggling to tell someone how I really feel and it would just be so much easier to have them peer inside my mind. If I could unscrew my skull for a moment, maybe pluck out my heart too, and hand it over so they could see what I was trying to say. Here, take this, it’s all of my insides. Look closely. See that? See inside there? Can you see what I’m feeling? Do you understand me now? Do you know how much I love you?
In today’s simple — but lush — poem, we find a kindness that needs no words.
by Albert Garcia
Here, take this palmful of raspberries as my gift. It isn’t much but we’ve often said our needs are simple, some quiet time alone on the patio in the cool morning, coffee, a few words over the newspaper. I’ve rinsed these berries so you can tumble them right into your cereal, one minute on the vine, the next in your bowl, my hand to your mouth. Let’s say my words were as simply sweet as these berries, chosen as carefully, plucked and held, then delivered as perfect morsels of meaning. Not what you hear, which is never what I mean to say. Will you take these berries? Will you feel their weight on your tongue, taste their tang as they slide into you, small, bright, honest: the only gift I have to give?
"Offering" by Albert Garcia, copyright © 2021 Albert Garcia. Originally published in The Catamaran Literary Reader, reprinted in How to Love the World. Used by permission of the poet.