586: Poem That Leaves Behind The Ocean

586: Poem That Leaves Behind The Ocean

586: Poem That Leaves Behind The Ocean


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Just recently a deadly tornado hit Western Kentucky hard. We live in Central Kentucky and we were luckily unaffected by the massive destruction the tornado left in its wake. Still, the photographs and firsthand reports are utterly heartbreaking. I don’t know about you, but It seems that just as we think we are finally managing one tragedy, another is right behind it, waiting to catch us off guard.

It’s hard to find much to be thankful for, when a whole town has been decimated. It’s times like this that I find myself holding on to my husband tightly, curling up with my dog and cat and kissing their soft foreheads. The only way I can find anything that might relieve the worry or the sorrow is to think about what Fred Rogers once said. You may be familiar with this quote, but it has always helped me in times of tragedy. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

And so I do, I look for the helpers. And what follows after I spot the helpers is not relief, but a belief in the human spirit to overcome, to reach out a hand, to know how fragile life is and to still be willing to climb through the rubble and rescue someone. To have nothing, but to still offer something to someone else. It’s something I hold on to in times like these. Maybe you need it too?

In today’s quietly resilient poem, we see a recognition of human suffering, yes, but we also see how sometimes, it is enough to surrender to the mystery, the beauty, and the breath of life.

Poem That Leaves Behind The Ocean
by Jim Moore

I’ve always wanted to write a poem that ends
at the ocean. How the poem gets there
doesn’t much matter, just so at last
it arrives. The manatee will be there
we saw all those years ago,
almost motionless under the water
like a pendant swaying at an invisible throat,
the one my mother used to wear
on the most special of occasions. My God
is still there, the one I prayed to as a boy:
he never answered but that didn’t keep me
from calling out to him. 

I turn off the notification app for good,
no longer needing to know exactly how many gone.
After all, clinging to life
is what we have always done best.
We are still trying to hide
from the truth of things and who
can blame us.
Lists don’t make sense anymore,
unless toilet paper and peanut butter head them.
Last-stage patients are not being told
how crowded the ferry will be
that will take them across the river. 

We are forbidden cafés, churches, even cemeteries.
Fishing by ourselves, however, is still permitted. As long
as we keep nothing at all. As long as we walk
back home, in darkness, empty-handed,
breathing deeply, having thrown back
what was never ours to keep. 

"Poem That Leaves Behind the Ocean" by Jim Moore, from PROGNOSIS by Jim Moore, copyright © 2021. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.