I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
I have always been interested in those times in our lives when things feel like they could change, like a sea change could happen at any minute. What my father called a paradigm shift. Those moments when you choose a new way of life or commit to a different path and decide this is what you will do, this is how you will live.
Sometimes the decisions aren’t so clear, and sometimes they are. I remember when I first moved to Kentucky. I struggled with the new landscape, albeit beautiful, and what it meant to live away from my family in California and my friends in New York. I felt stuck in the middle of nowhere. And not just in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of the middle.
This was at the time when my husband Lucas was launching a new business and worked constantly at all hours of the day and night. He thought only about work and making a new business idea successful. And I was left to my own devices. I wrote. I read. I walked. I took pictures of barns and owls and trees. And I worried. I worried because I had started to resent my love, I resented him for moving me to this unfamiliar place. I resented the isolation.
I still remember feeling torn. As if to love this new place would be giving up on my dreams of ever living in California again. Still, I started to warm to the bluegrass state, started to praise the green landscape, the horses dotting the pastures, the snowfall erasing the backroads so that everything was a blank slate. I remember having a moment by myself during a snowfall, standing in all that blankness, and realizing I didn’t have to be torn. I don’t know why that came as a surprise. But it did.
Later that day, I told Lucas that I didn’t think I could go on with the low-grade resentment I was feeling about moving to Kentucky and so I was going to let it go. I was going to live where I lived and I was going to love it. And the funny thing is, I did. I do.
Today’s poem shows us what it is to be at a halfway point in your life. I love this poem for its mystery and how it shows us that being stuck between two worlds requires a new language.
by Paula Mendoza
You were between two animals. Between two attributions. At the crotch of a river’s fork. At a loss, at least. Between all losses, tendering alms. By the skin of one’s stolen teeth. The lethargy of one newly shorn. To derive, say, attenuate, say starved to a taper. A porousness. False asphodel if aphasic, if sticky. Vaseline-smear a focalization. Ocean maw and mountain blade recede. At last, at least—this. A figure gathers line and edge. She is between two roars. Who devours or drowns. Say shore when you mean precipice. Say split when you mean in pieces. Redoubled at the jut of some far becoming. Between, to say the least. A shade and its absorption. To swatch a sea’s phonemes, to score what of light she keeps to let through.
"Halfway" by Paula Mendoza, from PLAY FOR TIME copyright © 2020 Paula Mendoza. Used by permission of Gaudy Boy LLC.