The heart wants her horses back

Six poems by American writer Ada Limón, from the book Bright Dead Things (2015):


How to Triumph Like a Girl

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.


State Bird

Confession: I did not want to live here,
not among the goldenrod, wild onions,
or the dropseed, not waist high in the barrel-
aged brown corn water, not with the million-
dollar racehorses, or the tightly wound
round hay bales. Not even in the old tobacco
weigh station we live in, with its heavy metal
safe doors that frame our bricked bedroom
like the mouth of a strange beast yawning
to suck us in, each night, like air. I denied it,
this new land. But, love, I’ll concede this:
whatever state you are, I’ll be that state’s bird,
the loud, obvious blur of song people point to
when they wonder where it is you’ve gone.



Six horses died in a tractor-trailer fire.
There. That’s the hard part. I wanted
to tell you straight away so we could
grieve together. So many sad things,
that’s just one on a long recent list
that loops and elongates in the chest,
in the diaphragm, in the alveoli. What
is it they say, heart-sick or downhearted?
I picture a heart lying down on the floor
of the torso, pulling up the blankets
over its head, thinking this pain will
go on forever (even though it won’t).
The heart is watching Lifetime movies
and wishing, and missing all the good
parts of her that she has forgotten.
The heart is so tired of beating
herself up, she wants to stop it still,
but also she wants the blood to return,
wants to bring in the thrill and wind of the ride,
the fast pull of life driving underneath her.
What the heart wants? The heart wants
her horses back.



Sun in the cool expressway underpass air
and Ma calls, says it’s nice out today
during her long walk through the vineyard
where spring’s pushed out every tizzy-tongued
flower known to the valley’s bosom of light.
I say, Look, we’re talking about the weather,
and she says, You know, it does help you
see the person you’re talking to. (The difference
in a wind-blown winter’s walk in January cold
and the loose steps of sun on far-off shoulders.)
Then I say, Now, we’re talking about talking
about the weather. It’s very meta of us.
Yes, she says, we could go on like this forever.
And it’s been exactly two months since
C died, my hands holding her head, odd
extraordinary February sun gone down
on the smooth slope of green grass, and
all my father and I had done all day was
talk about two things: the weather and her
breathing. (That machine-body gone harsh
in its prolonging and the loud gasping sigh of dying,
thick as a hawk’s cry, breaking out in the cloudless
atmosphere.) Some impossibly still moment,
we stood looking at the long field’s pull
and we wanted her to die, for her sake,
wanted the motor of body to give up and go.
How strange this silent longing for death,
as if you could make the sun not come up,
the world’s wheeling and wheeling its seasons
like a cruel continuation of stubborn force.
But that’s not how it happens. Instead, light
escapes from the heart’s room and for a moment
you believe the clock will stop itself. Absence.
You see: light escapes from a body at night
and in the morning, despite the oppressive vacancy
of her leaving’s shadow, light comes up
over the mountains and it is and it is and it is.



No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.


The Wild Divine

After we tumbled and fought and tumbled again,
he and I sat out in the backyard before his parents
came home, flushed and flowered and buzzing
with the quickening ripples of blood growing up
and I could barely feel my hands, my limbs numbed
from the new touching that seemed unbearably
natural and uncommonly kindled in the body’s stove.
Oh my newness! Oh my new obsession, his hands!
I thought I could die and be happy and be humbled
by luck of a first love and a first full-fledged fuck.
I wanted to tell my ma. I wanted to make a movie.
I wanted to dynamite out of my bare feet to sky-town,
as we passed the joint in the thick summer’s wind
too-rich with oak leaves, eucalyptus, and smoke.
I thought I might have a heart attack, kinda craved
one, kinda wanted the bum-rush of goodbye
like every kid wants when they’re finally on fire.
Then, out of the stoned-breath quiet of the hills,
came another animal, a real animal, a wandering
Madrone-skinned horse from the neighbor’s garden,
bowed-back, higher than a man’s hat, high up
and hitched to nothing. He rustled down his giant
head where we sat, stoned and wide-eyed at this
animal come to greet us in our young afterglow,
and he seemed almost worthy of complete devotion.
We rubbed his long nose, his large eyes turning
to take us all in, to inhale us, to accept our now-selves
and he was older, the wise-hooved big-hearted elder
and I thought, this was what it was to be blessed—
to know a love that was beyond an owning, beyond
the body and its needs, but went straight from wild
thing to wild thing, approving of its wildness.

Source: Bright Dead Things, by Ada Limón (2015)

‘Pegasus’ by Jacopo de Barbari , 1509 – 1516

About the book

  • Milkweed Editions, 2015, 128 p. Goodreads
  • My rating: 4 stars

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