Poetry by Ada Limón

Illustrations by Lindsey Bailey


In the Company of Ghosts

Mainly in the square raised garden
kneeling over the new inky seeds

of California poppies I’ve planted
in the Bluegrass State, rainbow chard,

Chioggia beets, chocolate sunflowers
already half eaten by the screaming jay,

mainly, with the encroaching weeds
creeping in the curated earth, I think

I hated the way you’d waste our bright
weekends meticulously uprooting

the dandelions and vines, your obsession
with clean lines and variations of color,

mainly I remember you most in
the garden off Arnold Drive how

you were happiest controlling
something small and leaving your expert

mark on the land, how you wanted me
to help even for extra chore money, but

I never liked to kneel with you, never
wanted to be so still, so quiet, so ordered

with free hours, until now, when I speak
to you and bury and unbury and bury.


The Light that Brings the Missing

The last of the day’s sunlight is stuck
in the mimosa tree, a clean light, something
out of a movie made in the seventies or a music
video where someone falls in love or hits a slow
motion home run. Back when we could predict
the future, a delight to make a plan, take a road trip,
see the ocean, your brick-red bridge, see your mother
and your stepfather, your mother’s white kitchen
with that same clean light over the yellow hills
of your hometown. A place where she is always
cooking onions in a cast iron and there is cornbread,
and she makes a dry joke your stepfather laughs at
while he turns from the news to take a plate to
the table, a table in the first home they finally own,
a blossoming orange tree in the front, and blooming
hydrangeas too big for bees to even wrap
their whole buzzing heads around, and somehow you
can hold them there for as long as you can hold
one breath, until just like the light they are gone,
and the future goes dim with the enormity of the sky.


The Recipe

In the middle of your worn maroon scrapbook
where you kept the recipes you cut or ripped
out of Bon Appétit and Saveur and some
other slick mags I didn’t recognize, where I was
desperately looking for your simple coleslaw recipe,
panicked and over-tired, pulled apart and splayed
on the hard slab of life, in the middle of your
scrapbook, I find the note from Swedish Hospital
and the instructions on how to increase
your iron levels. I remember how we’d make you
eat beet greens, and that time, anxious and older
than we should have been, my youngest brother
and I ordered steaks from the fanciest restaurant
we knew and together ate them with you in your
hospital room. We took photos and grim-smiled
because it was proof, proof of our love, proof
that after all of our work of fine food and provisions,
of lists and recipes, you would get better. That was
the agreement. We follow everything to the letter,
you do what is called for, and you live. I can’t find
the recipe anymore, thrown away or never there
to begin with, all this to say, the scrim is thin today,
I miss you, I managed to make coleslaw, though I
had to make it up, all on my own.

Ada Limón, a current Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of five poetry collections, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency MFA Program and lives in Lexington, Kentucky.