646: every exquisite thing

646: every exquisite thing

646: every exquisite thing


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Once when I was visiting a college in New Jersey, a student asked me what the question was that I always return to and I said, “How do we live?” And I think he was taken aback. But I mean, how do we live knowing all that we know. How do we live with mortality, with the climate crisis, with the end of all things?

I’m not being facetious, I literally ask myself this daily. Do we surrender and give up and just crumble into a heaving mass of nothingness? Or? And you see where I’m going with this…OR… do we find pleasure in this overwhelming world, that in its looming end, is also wondrous and breathtaking and full of so much beauty it can bring you to your knees. I’m on the side of that OR, that YES AND moment. Yes, the world is rough AND I choose to live in it with all my brokenness and sweetness mingling in this surreal and very real present moment.

I was talking to a friend the other day and he said, “Which apocalypse?” And we laughed and it felt true. There are so many endings, so many reasons to glue yourself emphatically to what’s good in this world.

Today’s poem is an ekphrastic poem–which is a term that commonly means a poem that describes a work of art, or imagines meaning behind a work of art. In this poem, we see two influences. One is the work of Sonya Sanchez Arias, a sculpture she called Dorian Gray because it’s a gown made entirely out of recycled plastics left over from Hurricane Dorian. And the second is a quote by Oscar Wilde, of course from the novel Dorian Gray: “Behind any exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”

And finally, the poet, heidi andrea restrepo rhodes, adds her poem to the conversation and we witness the speaker struggle to understand how to find pleasure in this always-ending world.

every exquisite thing
by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes

(After Sonia Sanchez Arias’ sculpture, “Dorian Gray,” after Oscar Wilde)

that the most ordinary flower might
bloom, entire worlds crumble

that your dress may twirl & catch the candle gleam,
fingers bleed by needle, child bones grow old by night

the reek of oil harvested, the brutal boring of terrestrial pores,
of slick & serum, stolen earth: a cancering theft ripens

a five hundred year old violence,
a plastic violence dancing in the glee of a mirror

oh dancer in your everyday routine, that you inhale
the sweet scent of your own skin, an ocean chokes on pile-up

a mass grave of coral, bodies that once felt the tethered pulse
of missing a sister, a manifest exploitation, water sweating human dust

you set aside the news, comment on the sun,
how it glistens on the gentle waves

how beautiful, how marvelous, you say
how divine accumulation tastes, divorcing sugar from its labor deaths

hiding the afterglow of tragedy in the spell of pleasures,
luxuries, wretched white wall of happiness designed to obscure the view

every exquisite thing you’ve known has been
somebody else’s drowning, a vast field of obliterations

your paradise, a whole planet
on its way to extinction

"every exquisite thing" by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes. Used by permission of the poet.