Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón

Ada Limón reads five poems from her new collection, Bright Dead Things, published in September by Milkweed Editions.


It was, for a time, a loud twittering flight
of psychedelic-colored canaries: a cloud
of startle and get-out in the ornamental
irons of the rib cage. Nights when the moon
was wide like the great eye of a universal
beast coming close for a kill, it was a cave
of bitten bones and snake skins, eggshell dust,
and charred scraps of a frozen-over flame.
All the things it has been: kitchen knife
and the ancient carp’s frown, cavern of rust
and worms in the airless tire swing,
cactus barb, cut-down tree, dead cat
in the plastic crate. Still, how the great middle
ticker marched on, and from all its four chambers
to all its forgiveness, unlocked the sternum’s
door, reversed and reshaped until it was a new
bright carnal species, more accustomed to grief,
and ecstatic at the sight of you.



It was only months when it felt like I had been
washing the dishes forever.

Hardwood planks under the feet, a cord to the sky.
What is it to go to a We from an I?

Each time he left for an errand, the walls
would squeeze me in. I cried over the nonexistent bathmat, wet
    floor of him,
how south we were, far away in the outskirts.

(All the new bugs.)

I put my apron on as a joke and waltzed around carrying
a zucchini like a child.

This is Kentucky, not New York, and I am not important.

This was before we got the dog even, and before I trusted
the paralyzing tranquilizer of love stuck
in the flesh of my neck.

Back home, in my apartment, another woman lived there.
In Brooklyn, by the deli, where everything
was clean and contained.

(Where I grieved my deaths.)

I took to my hands and knees. I was thinking about the novel
I was writing. The great heavy chest of live animals
I had been dragging around for years; what’s life?

I made the house so clean (shine and shine and shine).

I was suspicious of the monkey sounds of Kentucky’s birds,
judging crackles, rusty mailbox, spiders in the magnolia tree,
tornado talk, dead June bugs like pinto beans.

Somewhere I had heard that, after noting the lack
of water pressure in an old hotel in Los Angeles,
they found a woman’s body at the bottom
of the cistern.

Imagine, just thinking the water was low, just wanting
to take a shower.

After that, when the water would act weird,
spurt, or gurgle, I’d imagine a body, a woman, a me
just years ago, freely single, happily unaccounted for,
at the lowest curve of the water tower.

Yes, and over and over,
I’d press her limbs down with a long pole
until she was still.



The man across the street is mowing 40 acres on a small lawn mower.
It’s so small, it must take him days, so I imagine that he likes it. He
must. He goes around each tree carefully. He has 10,000 trees; it’s
a tree farm, so there are so many trees. One circle here. One circle
there. My dog and I’ve been watching. The light’s escaping the sky,
and there’s this place I like to stand, it’s before the rise, so I’m invis-
ible. I’m standing there, and I’ve got the dog, and the man is mow-
ing in his circles. So many circles. There are no birds or anything, or
none that I can see. I imagine what it must be like to stay hidden,
disappear in the dusky nothing and stay still in the night. It’s not
sadness, though it may sound like it. I’m thinking about people
and trees and how I wish I could be silent more, be more tree than
anything else, less clumsy and loud, less crow, more cool white pine,
and how it’s hard not to always want something else, not just to let
the savage grass grow.



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.
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.



Nights when it’s warm
and no one is watching,
I walk to the edge
of the road and stare
at all the fireflies.
I squint and pretend
they’re hallucinations,
bright made-up waves
of the brain.
I call them,
field bling.
I call them,
fancy creepies.
It’s been a long time
since I’ve wanted to die,
it makes me feel
like taking off
my skin suit
and seeing how
my light flies all
on its own, neon
and bouncy like a
wannabe star.


 "The Last Move," "Mowing,​”" "Relentless," "Adaptation," and "Field Bling" ​from Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.