THE INJURED GUY
By Ada Lemon
The poet Ada Limón is a welcome companion at this stage of the pandemic. She writes to counter isolation and usher in change. Her poems assume solitude and approach the reader to seal a kind of virtual communion. Her hope is tentative, evasive. Limón’s consolations are small but strong, and when her poems look to the future, they are often at the service of creating a connection in the here and now: “Would you refuse me if I asked you / point to the horizon again, say I / something It was worth the wait? That “you” is the most important thing in Limón’s work, a wide-open loved one who is us, of course. Such a spacious embrace is a consolation, and not a literary feat.
After publishing his first two books with very small print runs, Limón jumped onto the national scene with “Sharks in the Rivers” (2010). His next collection, “Bright Dead Things” (2015), was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. “The Carrying” (2018) won this last award; it is a harrowing book, Limón at her most vulnerable, facing a parade of life’s major and minor disappointments, such as the inability to conceive a child, with determination, wisdom and generous openness. In response to a friend who espouses the miracles of parenthood, Limón writes, “we have tried for a long time, been sad, been happy, / that maybe the only thing I can do / is love and art.”
“The Carrying” was a clear breakthrough, in which Limón mastered his unflinching gaze and put his considerable powers of empathy at the service of his readers. Her new book, “The Hurting Kind,” strikes me as a transitional work, less sure of itself and its purpose than its predecessor, but also trying some new things, including longer poems. As a pandemic book, “The Hurting Kind” has a bit of a blurry focus and a small population: a companion, a dog, a cat, and the squirrels, birds, and groundhogs visible through the window. There are some poems that don’t quite fly, landing too soon on a sentimental conclusion or too optimistic or overreaching in emotional weight, as in these lines about fishing: “Is this where I’m supposed to apologize? Not / just the fish, but the whole lake, land, not just for me / but for generations of plunder and disappearance.” The apology is too broad: yes, we are guilty of great damage, but “the fish” is not the correct confessor.
And yet I soon find myself forgetting my little qualms, so grateful am I for Limón’s powerfully observant eye. There are many wonderful poems here and a handful of genuine masterpieces. For example, the long poem that gives the book its title does something completely surprising out of a brush with sentimentality:
Before my grandfather died, I asked him what kind
of horse that he had growing up. He said,
Just a horse. My horse, so tenderly
I rubbed my rib bones all wrong.
I’ve always been too sensitive, a crybaby
of a long line of weepers.
I’m the type to suffer. I’m still looking for evidence.
This should fail: I don’t know this guy; why should i care? — but I just can’t get away from that sentence: “Just a horse. My horse.It is the music, Limón’s excellent ear for the rhythms of speech and the sounds of sentences, the repetition of “horse,” the five stressed syllables grouped into threes and twos, that lifts this above sentimentality, that allows you to feel his longing and hers. . Sometimes the deepest truth one can admit is that the past is irretrievable, even though it never seems very far away.