675: [chiasmus with all the other animals]

675: [chiasmus with all the other animals]

675: [chiasmus with all the other animals]


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

It’s raining outside right now, green everywhere, violets and buttercups coming up, ivy already strangling the fence. Rickie Lee Jones is playing on the speaker in the house and my dog is drinking water in time with the bass line, so that she seems to be making music too. We are learning now about the atrocities in Ukraine and I’m both reading the news and avoiding the news. There are small animals moving under the hackberries and I can see them from the window, chipmunks and squirrels. I’m telling you this all at once because that is how it is happening…all at once. The war, the climate crisis, the robins pulling worms up in the rain.

It never ceases to astound me. This life. The vastness, the unbearable human violence, and then the small things too, the petals dropping right now from the neighbor’s cherry trees sticking to the fence line, piling up in the drainage ditch, the drops of rain hanging huge and with intention on the leafless branches of the Japanese maple. How can I bear this beauty and also bear the weight of this moment in our human tragedy? I don’t know. But I know I’ve dedicated my life to trying to figure it out. Or, at least trying to do it, trying to live with both, with all of it.

I do know this. When I am most at a loss, most untethered, I look to the natural world, to anything that is still continuing, still living, that will go on without us, and I find some sort of equanimity in that. It doesn’t feel like an answer or a fixed point, it feels like life. That’s what’s going on outside my window now. Life—mine, and the world’s.

Today’s poem does that beautiful work of balancing the grief and beauty of this human and non-human world. I love this poem for many reasons but especially for the way it creates a space for all of our emotions at once.

[chiasmus with all the other animals]
by Brenda Hillman

Curled thrush song staggering	   over moral tally

Number is all	        wrote Baudelaire

	     Fox kits hunting		    solitary voles

So many beings here without despair

From a box of words         called a room
We heard	          a protest in the distances

The pall       caul       crawl        through summer

Struggling bees	  not yet out of work

Cities were running out of sidewalks
Where men could sleep

Human life	     on the high fade

Didn’t see plovers      but saw yellow police tape

Didn’t see whales chasing	  dots of krill
    Some might make it north
        Captain Ahab        chasing minnows now

Compared to what
		                         is this our earthly fear

Roadside mosses	  seasonally moist rocks

Unfailing dirt	     arriving from a star

Straight from 	  its lifelike origins      ear

Love	      keep love        at the crossroads
Of doing nothing	           & nothing doing

Before the next ignorant machine	    opens
Briefly & always       to another life

"[chiasmus with all the other animals]" by Brenda Hillman. Originally published in Alta. Used by permission of the poet.