724: Conditionally

724: Conditionally

724: Conditionally


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

This last year, my husband and I started watching the British television show, The Detectorists. It’s a quiet, understated comedy where nothing much happens, but we both fell deeply in love with the characters, the landscape, and how each time the two leads went out with their metal detectors to search for something unnameable, historical, lost inside years of earth, there was a meditative optimism. This time, we might find something. This time, the world might open up and show us its treasures.

The show reminded me a little of writing poetry. It’s that idea that if we look long and hard enough at something, if we look for something, if we are patient and observant and thorough with our looking, we might find some new worth.

It’s true of reading at times, too. Oh, it used to be so hard for me to pay attention to books when I was younger. I was always so distracted by the world. I had an old friend who used to walk down the streets of Provincetown, Cape Cod reading a novel. I never knew how he did it without falling, or getting hit by a stray truck, or even just feeling too distanced from the landscape that he might have the urge to throw the novel into the sea just so he could actually look at the sea. But his concentration was impressive. It was something I envied.

It used to take me a long time to enter a book. I needed silence, focus, a mind ready to take things in, a mind ready to stop racing. I didn’t come by that easily, so instead, I had to prepare myself to read. Never at night, in bed or I’d be too enticed by sleep. Learning to focus on reading was a game changer, because I’d be so lost without books. Like a metal detectorist, I had to learn patience and focus.

Today’s poem is a nod to the long days of summer and how each is full of waiting and watching for something good to come at last.

by Devin Kelly

Sometimes I remember summer in California,
just 12, army father, & the way he left me
alone at the hotel, & how, taken to nothing 
but wanting love, I wandered the beach,
not knowing what to do with an ocean.
I wore socks with my sneakers & sat,
thinking myself older, clutching a book
I didn’t read, wanting to read, but not,
& then looking up, & wanting to read again.
A lot has changed since then, & nothing.
I don’t wear socks. I know what it’s like 
to be high. Sometimes I have wanted
to know if there is an underside to life,
& if it is inverted, so that there, we live
inside of light rather than below it.
I have found it better to believe in everything
than nothing — like the old man each day
on the beach, scavenging with the metal
extension of his arm for gold or bits of
valuable scrap. Each day I thought him
doing something else: sometimes searching
or forgiving or even blessing, sometimes
longing for something more than this, & yet
something still, head turned toward this soft
ground that offered nothing but would or maybe.

"Conditionally" by Devin Kelly. Used by permission of the poet.