562: The Lonely Humans

562: The Lonely Humans

562: The Lonely Humans


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Most mornings, if we’re both home, and not too busy, my husband and I walk the dog around the neighborhood. I love it. We point out the trees, or rather, I point out the trees and Lucas nods. My favorite is when he points at a tree that he doesn’t like. Because who doesn’t like a tree? He makes me laugh. Once he said, very seriously, “I mean, as sycamores go, can’t we agree that that’s not a very handsome sycamore?”

The dog loves the walk too, the crunch of leaves under our feet, the news of the neighborhood. It’s just a circle, a short loop. We are literally walking in circles. And somehow I love it. I love it because it feels like we’ve done it forever, gone round and round pointing at the trees.

In today’s poem, we see what it is to walk together in love, to not know who is following or who is leading, but to feel like this circle might be an eternal loop that goes beyond time itself.

The Lonely Humans
by Jennifer Chang

A type of hickory, it grows by water.
So are we fools to drive to the river
the day after our most savage storms
have finally stopped to see
a tree we’ve never seen before?
To hike in cold mud through a leafless forest,
to behold clearings now cluttered
by whatever fell last night—mostly oaks,
no hickory—to attend the mad performance
of a newly roaring current.
I do not want to call it singing,
the wounded poet’s head howling 
downriver. Remember we scorned
his broken heart, broken rashly
by himself, some say, for wanting love
too soon. You say I am unfair, that too much 
rain is what makes the river rush (there is no “we”
in what you say, dear): we hear it
as mythology. We hear it outside
ourselves, a surfeit of music quickening
wind against winter trees, branch-taps
I mistake for premonitions. Of what? That the tree
is here, ready to spring to life again. I am 
unfair. I want to love honestly; I want love
honest. Every tree is the wrong tree.
This is the direction we get lost in. 
Beech, sweetgum, more oak. But she 
was impatient too, you say, it is possible
she willed him to look back. We do not love alone
is what I think you mean. When I walk behind you,
the back of your head is golden, ungovernable
light I cannot look away from. Is it love
that to follow you I find myself choosing
an unexpected path; should we find the tree,
will it be I who led us there or you? Long gone
are the leaves alternate, compounded, each
an arrow, the thrust of a green thought; 
along the forest floor centuries crack and turn
to dust. We have children, grudges,
a Dionysian mortgage, habits
mostly bad, and yet every December
I imagine spring, our time past
and to come, how when you follow me
I track the blazes to reach the river, and often
I have to stop myself from looking back.
To stay together, look away, some god said.
Here in these trees, our voices have no 
faces, we’ve walked like this for an eternity.

"The Lonely Humans" by Jennifer Chang. Used by permission of the poet.