I have enjoyed following the career of Ada Limon the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2022 until 2025, the first Latino to hold that position. Her poetry has become very popular because it speaks to the common person and touches the heart, often dealing with life’s issues we all experience. Her work is tender but resounding, personal and about self-discovery, often reflective of Nature, with wonderful wordsmith. She reminds me of several of my favorite poets, such as Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Donald Hall, Kay Ryan, William Stafford, and Robert Frost. Like them, she finds the profound in the simplicity of every-day things.
Ada Limon was born into an artistic Mexican-American family in Sonoma, California. She earned a BA from the University of Washington and a MFA in creative writing from New York University where she studied with Sharon Olds, Philip Levine, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Agha Shahid Ali, and Tom Sleigh. Limon is the recipient of many literary awards, such as the Guggenheim Foundation, MacArthur Fellow, Griffen Poetry Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critic’s Award, Chicago Literary Award, New York Foundation for the Arts, Pearl Poetry Prize, Pushcart Prize, and the PEN/Oakland Award.
She has six poetry books, Lucky Wreck (2005), This Big Fake World (2005), Bright Dead Things (2015), The Hunting Kind (2022), The Carrying (2018), and Sharks In the Rivers (2010). Her work is in numerous publications, such as The New Yorker, New York Times, Harvard Review, Pleiades, and Barrow Street. Limon teaches at the Queens University of Charlotte, NC and lives in Kentucky.
Reviewers On Her Work
“Ada Limon writes with simple and disarming honesty for people rather than for poets …There is an aloneness in this poetry and at the same time a generosity in the sharing of readers … Her poetry goes straight to the heart.”
“For poet Ada Limón, evidence of poetry is everywhere. It connects big ideas — like fear, isolation, even death — with little details — like field sparrows, a box of matches, or the body moving freely … The relationship between humans and the natural world, is typical for Limón’s poems. The poet often directs this attention back to herself — learning from nature how to interact with her feelings, her reactions and her memories. The power of attention, Limón conveys, is in finding out just how an individual’s experience might fit into the collective experience.”
“There is an authoritative sincerity to her work … the stamp of originality … It blends the small and everyday with the vast and cosmological … An Ada Limon poem can move between the delicately lyrical and the down-to-earth and colloquial.”
“Unlike much contemporary poetry, Limón’s work isn’t text-derivative or deconstructivist. She personalizes her homilies, stamping them with the authenticity of invention and self-discovery.”
Library of Congress
“A poet who connects. Her accessible, engaging poems ground us in where we are and who we share our world with. They speak of intimate truths, of the beauty and heartbreak that is living, in ways that help us move forward.”
Sharks In the Rivers
We’ll say unbelievable things
to each other in the early morning—
our blue coming up from our roots,
our water rising in our extraordinary limbs.
All night I dreamt of bonfires and burn piles
and ghosts of men, and spirits
behind those birds of flame.
I cannot tell anymore when a door opens or closes,
I can only hear the frame saying, Walk through.
It is a short walkway—
into another bedroom.
Consider the handle. Consider the key.
I say to a friend, how scared I am of sharks.
How I thought I saw them in the creek
across from my street.
I once watched for them, holding a bundle
of rattlesnake grass in my hand,
shaking like a weak-leaf girl.
She sends me an article from a recent National Geographic that says,
Sharks bite fewer people each year than
New Yorkers do, according to Health Department records.
Then she sends me on my way. Into the City of Sharks.
Through another doorway, I walk to the East River saying,
Sharks are people too.
Sharks are people too.
Sharks are people too.
I write all the things I need on the bottom
of my tennis shoes. I say, Let’s walk together.
The sun behind me is like a fire.
Tiny flames in the river’s ripples.
I say something to God, but he’s not a living thing,
so I say it to the river, I say,
I want to walk through this doorway
But without all those ghosts on the edge,
I want them to stay here.
I want them to go on without me.
I want them to burn in the water.
The Last Thing
First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then the bluish-
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then
the quiet that came roaring
in like the R. J. Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened. Not in the universe,
but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. It’s going to rain soon,
close clouds bloated above us,
the air like a net about to release
all the caught fishes, a storm
siren in the distance. I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.
When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
Instructions On Not Giving Up
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
It Begins With Trees
Two full cypress trees in the clearing
intertwine in a way that almost makes
them seem like one. Until at a certain angle
from the blue blow-up pool I bought
this summer to save my life, I see it
is not one tree, but two, and they are
kissing. They are kissing so tenderly
it feels rude to watch, one hand
on the other’s shoulder, another
in the other’s branches, like hair.
When did kissing become so
dangerous? Or was it always so?
That illicit kiss in the bathroom
of the Four-Faced Liar, a bar
named after a clock, what was her
name? Or the first one with you
on the corner of Metropolitan
Avenue, before you came home
with me forever. I watch those green
trees now and it feels libidinous.
I want them to go on kissing, without
fear. I want to watch them and not
feel so abandoned by hands. Come
home. Everything is begging you.
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.
What It Must Have Felt Like
Palm-sized and fledgling, a beak
protruding from the sleeve, I
have kept my birds muted
for so long, I fear they’ve grown
accustom to a grim quietude.
What chaos could ensue
should a wing get loose?
Come overdue burst, come
flock, swarm, talon, and claw.
Scatter the coop’s roost, free
the cygnet and its shadow. Crack
and scratch at the state’s cage,
cut through cloud and branch,
no matter the dumb hourglass’s
white sand yawning grain by grain.
What cannot be contained
cannot be contained.
How Are We Made
For months, I was a cannonball
dropped down the bore, reeling
in blurry vomitous swirls toward
the fuse; forty days with vertigo
is like that. My new equilibrium
was spinning inside the chambers
of spherical blackness when the news
came. You, with your wiry limbs
of hard verse, inky gap-toothed grin
of gristle and work, you who grimly
told us to stop messing around,
to make this survival matter
like a factory line, like fish scaling,
like filament and rubble, you
who would say, most likely,
this was all sentimental crap, you
had gone to cinders, blasted
into the ether without so much
as smoke. I stood then on the icy hill
under the expressway, filled
with the salt you had given me,
and for the first time that year,
my entire world stood still.
Dream of the Raven
When the ten-speed, lightweight bicycle broke down
off the highway lined
thick with orange trees, I
noticed a giant raven’s head protruding from the waxy
leaves. The bird was stuck somehow, mangled in the
branches, crying out.
Wide-eyed, I held the bird’s face
close to mine. Beak to nose. Dark brown iris to dark
brown iris. Feather to feather. This was not the
Chihuahuan raven or the fantailed raven or the
common raven. Nothing was common about the way
we stared at one another while a stranger untangled
the bird’s claws from the tree’s limbs and he, finally
free, became a naked child swinging in the wind.
Easy light storms in through the window, soft
edges of the world, smudged by mist, a squirrel’s
nest rigged high in the maple. I’ve got a bone
to pick with whomever is in charge. All year,
I’ve said, You know what’s funny? and then,
Nothing, nothing is funny. Which makes me laugh
in an oblivion-is-coming sort of way. A friend
writes the word lover in a note and I am strangely
excited for the word lover to come back. Come back
lover, come back to the five and dime. I could
squeal with the idea of blissful release, oh lover,
what a word, what a world, this gray waiting. In me,
a need to nestle deep into the safe-keeping of sky.
I am too used to nostalgia now, a sweet escape
of age. Centuries of pleasure before us and after
us, still right now, a softness like the worn fabric of a nightshirt
and what I do not say is, I trust the world to come back.
Return like a word, long forgotten and maligned
for all its gross tenderness, a joke told in a sun beam,
the world walking in, ready to be ravaged, open for business.
Past the strip malls and the power plants,
out of the holler, past Gun Bottom Road
and Brassfield and before Red Lick Creek,
there’s a stream called Drowning Creek where
I saw the prettiest bird I’d seen all year,
the belted kingfisher, crested in its Aegean
blue plumage, perched not on a high snag
but on a transmission wire, eyeing the creek
for crayfish, tadpoles, and minnows. We were
driving fast toward home and already our minds
were pulled taut like a high black wire latched
to a utility pole. I wanted to stop, stop the car
to take a closer look at the solitary, stocky water
bird with its blue crown and its blue chest
and its uncommonness. But already we were
a blur and miles beyond the flying fisher
by the time I had realized what I’d witnessed.
People were nothing to that bird, hovering over
the creek. I was nothing to that bird, which wasn’t
concerned with history’s bloody battles or why
this creek was called Drowning Creek, a name
I love though it gives me shivers, because
it sounds like an order, a place where one
goes to drown. The bird doesn’t call it anything.
I’m almost certain, though I am certain
of nothing. There is a solitude in this world
I cannot pierce. I would die for it.
Academy of American Poets
The Brooklyn Rail
New York Times
The New Yorker
National Public Radio