766: All I Know
766: All I Know
I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what saves us. I mean that in a real way, what saves us from our own pessimistic desire to give up? And I keep coming up with not joy, nor pleasure, but wonder, wonder at it all. Wonder is what keeps saving me. And right now, it’s the wonder of poems.
Today’s poem finds triumph in both its clear-eyed look at our broken world and the wonder that holds us here.
All I Know
by Paul Guest
The Statue of Liberty was packed in crates of lentils and there is a species of catfish with scales so tough that piranhas can’t chew through to red softness. I’m thinking of what is vital, today. The willow tree in my dreams that sways and a little girl singing quiet approximations of hymns. To the night. To the flames which are tragic and kinetic and aren’t ever receding. I was the other day looking out over what I believe is a river—forgive me for not knowing the vague taxonomies of water— and it was all noise, which is good for some who struggle to sleep or forget or change or learn or have any time that isn’t quilted by pain. I was attempting to memorize the wet folds going by, imagining the smoothness of rock that was hidden beneath it all, and composing another version of this poem. One which has no complaint inside its sour heart. No unanswered questions. No bitterness for how it’s turned out, this life. My own. In the news this morning: the death of a very great baseball player and I shouldn’t be so sad, I know. Not when I’m agreeing with the girl in the elevator that we have decades left, maybe, before the world becomes even more of an irredeemable hellscape. Before we’re nostalgic for the Kardashians. Before it wasn’t so bad, then, when nobody was heaving up the bloody rags of their lungs and nobody had figured out how to clone Henry Kissinger. I have never figured out what happiness is or how to be in it. Never learned what is behind door number three, if I want a better life. If at this point one is even possible. If this desperation is viral. If my name is good before any door. I don’t think so, not tonight, when I’m trying to pretend that winter isn’t real and there are trees which glow in the night and insects that sing beneath the bone light of the moon. O alternate heart: who could I be in another life, and upon whom could I visit harm like a storm? To dream of potency is to write this poem and feel no pain whatsoever. Remember me, I’m always saying to the air as if it were listening, sympathetic, capable of the idea of mercy. One summer I taught myself how to announce in Latin to the world that I wanted nothing at all when, in truth, I was desperate to be heard, understood, loved, my name a warm memory. There was the wind and the ocean and in it there were whales that lowed in the darkness like the onset of collapse. There was this dark will and what could I say but my name and what hurt?
"All I Know'" by Paul Guest. Used by permission of the poet.