How to Reclaim Our Humanity, through Poetry

An image from Carla Hayden’s Twitter feed on Oct. 29.

This past Saturday, in response to news of the attack on Paul Pelosi–husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–the Librarian of Congress tweeted the following:

Our hearts are with @SpeakerPelosi and her family. Wishing Paul Pelosi a full and quick recovery. We hope this line from a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate @adalimon brings comfort:

Dr. Hayden followed with a graphic quoting the conclusion of Ada Limón’s poem “We Are Surprised”—here is the poem in its entirety:

Now, we take the moon
into the middle of our brains

so we look like roadside stray cats
with bright flashlight-white eyes

in our faces, but no real ideas
of when or where to run.

We linger on the field’s green edge
and say, Someday, son, none of this

will be yours. Miracles are all around.
We’re not so much homeless

as we are home-free, penny-poor,
but plenty lucky for love and leaves

that keep breaking the fall. Here it is:
the new way of living with the world

inside of us so we cannot lose it,
and we cannot be lost. You and me,

are us and them, and it and sky.
It’s hard to believe we didn’t

know that before; it’s hard to believe
we were so hollowed out, so drained,

only so we could shine a little harder
when the light finally came.

(From Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ada Limón. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.)

To add context, I’d like to quote from our laureate’s interview on National Public Radio on July 12th of this year:

I think that it’s really important to remember that even in this particularly hard moment, divided moment, poetry can really help us reclaim our humanity. And I think it’s important right now at a time when so many of us have been numbed to trauma, to grief, to chaos. And so many of us have had to compartmentalize in order to live our lives. And we’ve had to kind of forget, conveniently, that we are thinking, feeling, grieving, emotional beings. And I think through poetry, I think we can actually remember that on the other side of that is also contentment, joy, a little peace now and again, and that those are all part of the same spectrum. And without one, we don’t have the other. And I think poetry is the place where we can go to break open. But to have that experience, I really, truly believe helps us remember that we’re human. And reclaiming our humanity seems like it’s really essential right now.

3 Comments

  1. Margarete Harvey
    October 31, 2022 at 7:19 pm

    If only there were more such lights!

  2. Cheryl Lederle
    November 1, 2022 at 8:50 am

    I needed these words this morning: “I think poetry is the place where we can go to break open. But to have that experience, I really, truly believe helps us remember that we’re human. And reclaiming our humanity seems like it’s really essential right now.”
    Thank you, Rob, for lifting up Ada Limon’s poetry and her reflections on being human.

  3. Judith Ellen
    November 6, 2022 at 12:23 am

    “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another”. (Mother Teresa)

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