556: Our Land

556: Our Land

556: Our Land


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I was talking to my mom a few days ago. The night before, we both had trouble sleeping. We were talking about how last Friday, I just suddenly started crying and couldn’t stop for five hours and how she cried in her car in the parking lot when she had to go to the UPS store. We both said it was good to cry. Neither of us had any real reason to cry. That’s what we told each other, no “real reason.” But then of course, we let out a surrendering laugh, we had all the reasons to cry. There are so many reasons to cry.

We talked about the pandemic and the lack of grieving we’ve done for all the lives that have been lost. We talked about how the one safe subject you used to be able to speak about wasn’t safe any more: weather. It was raining in my hometown and it was such a welcome relief from the drought, from what’s called “the fire season” now, but then of course the talk went to the danger of floods and mudslides because of the fire ravaged hills, the damaged soil.

This world feels more and more like there is no safe place to stand. Over there, someone is dying. Over here, a species is being exterminated. It’s too much for all of us to hold and yet the internet says I’ll be happier if I work harder, exercise harder, and eliminate carbohydrates. Is that true?

In these, and I hate to say this phrase, but it seems relevant here, “unprecedented times”...when do we get unabashed joy? Or do we ever get it? Has any joy ever come without its counterpart ⏤ sadness? Even now, if I find goodness or some real throw-your-head-back-and-guffaw kind of laughter, I feel like I need to couch it with “I know people are suffering and I know the world is dying, but I’m having a little happiness right now.” I don’t want to excuse my happiness as some aberrant behavior in the time of brutal truths. And still, it’s hard not to want to apologize for even the desire to be happy.

Somewhere in my cavernous mind, there’s a voice that says, “What kind of monster would even want to be happy right now? Have you been reading the news?”

In today’s poem by one of my personal poetic heros, Langston Hughes, we see the speaker wishing for a land where joy is possible. While the poem has an undercurrent of fear and what is outlawed, there’s also the idea that underneath this bleak landscape there might be another place where delight is allowed or even encouraged. Perhaps we can make it so.

Our Land
by Langston Hughes

We should have a land of sun, 
Of gorgeous sun, 
And a land of fragrant water
Where the twilight is a soft bandanna handkerchief
Of rose and gold, 
And not this land
Where life is cold.

We should have a land of trees,
Of tall thick trees,
Bowed down with chattering parrots
Brilliant as the day,
And not this land where birds are gray.

Ah, we should have a land of joy, 
Of love and joy and wine and song, 
And not this land where joy is wrong.