766: All I Know

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.