636: How to Hold the Heavy Weight of Now

636: How to Hold the Heavy Weight of Now

636: How to Hold the Heavy Weight of Now


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Once, walking home from my graduate poetry workshop at NYU, I found a perfectly good globe set out by a trash bin in the West Village. I wanted to take it home to my apartment on 21st Street, but in order to do so I’d have to carry the globe. It was fine at first and then my arms began to get sore. I thought about putting it down, but then where would I put this miniature world I had already grown so attached to?

When I reached Union Square my arms started to truly ache from trying to carry this large globe in this one particular position, which is really the only position in which you can carry a globe. As I was about to give up, a man on a park bench suddenly started singing, “She’s got the whole world in her hands, she’s got the whole world in her hands,” and I started to laugh and it gave me just enough encouragement to carry the globe all the way home.

I don’t know why this moment comes back to me so often, maybe it’s because the metaphor of it is so obvious — the world is really hard to carry, it hurts and it aches and I keep wanting to drop it, to let go of its burdens. And isn’t that what we feel so often? We want to put the world down, even for a moment, so we can rest.

I’m often marveling at the idea that we can take on more. Right now, we are living through a pandemic, the news is full of war and violence and the fear of more violence, and still we must get up and remember that being alive is a good thing. I am amazed at our capacity for this kind of carrying. But people have done this forever, haven’t they?

I’ve read the telegrams between my grandmother and grandfather during World War II. They break me. They were only 18 and everything was so dire, so serious, so life or death. He sends news from a hospital in Italy after the battle of Anzio, she sends her love from Redlands, California and wishes for his recovery, and in between…months pass and there is nothing but silence. As a child I thought it must have been impossible to live like that. But here we are, once again living in that overused phrase, “unprecedented times.”

Today’s wise poem examines that idea of how we can teach ourselves to hold this complex and aching moment. Here, the speaker learns to hold on, by also letting go.

How to Hold the Heavy Weight of Now
by Dana Levin

She said, “You just made this gesture with your
body–” and opened her arms as if she could
barely fit them around an enormous ball—

“Make that shape again,” she said, and so I did.
“Now let it change,” she said, and I did—

slowly closing the space between my arms,
fingertips converging until they touched—

I watched my hands turn together, align pinkie-
side to pinkie-side, I watched

my palms open, pushing gently forward, leading
my body forward, I watched them

let a bird go, I watched my hands

	               an offering—

"How to Hold the Heavy Weight of Now" by Dana Levin. Used by permission of the poet.