One of the jobs required of me during this week in Sonoma, according to my stepfather, was to go through what he refers to as MY storage unit. I wasn’t required to get rid of it all, I was only required to look at it, to know what was there, and to decide if I still wanted it. Boxes and boxes. Stuffed animals and costumes, bolo ties and cat eye glasses, Swatches and Casios, a yellow Walkman, a pin striped suit, books, and letters. Letters, so many, many letters. Notes I wrote, notes that were written to me, pictures, and postcards, and so many words on paper that my brain was full up on ink by the end.
I managed to throw away 7 boxes of “stuff,” and also to rescue some things back to the living: My old hiking boots I bought in Prague in 1993, my elementary school jacket that still boasts the “Dunbar Demons” mascot, even though they are now the much tamer, less controversial, Dunbar Dolphins.
What struck me was how important some of the items still seemed. I expected to be put off by how much unnecessary crap I had saved, but mostly, I was thrilled to see it again. The way you return to something, a place, a person, a poem, and are reminded of both the life you lived then, and where it launched you. I thought about how as writers, we have this storage unit in our heads and hearts, a place where whole poems, or sometimes just single lines, stay waiting for the right time to return to us. When we need them, we go back into the dark old room of our first loves, take out the dust-covered angel wings and the pooh bear, and find the first words that lit the candle sticks of our inexplicable careers. Come comrades, into the battle again, we require your services.
At the risk of revealing all my secrets, I thought I'd open my own box of some of the very first lines I remember memorizing in high school and undergrad, memorizing without even being aware of it. The lines that somehow stuck with me through the many blurry stoney days of creek walking and confusion. Many of them come from poems that were taught to me ("One Art," was even on a TEST, and it's still my favorite poem), and of course I've since fallen in love with millions more words and word-crafters, but here's the box I can remember the most, the time capsule, the footlocker, the firsts. Of course, when you find the old shoulder-padded jackets and pictures in storage you have to hold them up, and try them on, oh and you must reminisce.
(Sitting in Mrs. Lale's class reading it for the first time. Sunny outside. Oh the rhyming! The ache at the end, the form! It was so painful, this poem. Losing and losing that will go on forever. It's still my favorite. I was fifteen.)
“I lost two cities once, lovely ones. And vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent,
I miss them. But it wasn’t a disaster.”
(Mrs. Cole's class. We were supposed to be doing something else, I found this poem in an anthology on the shelf, oh my god, it's about penises! Oh my god, you can write about SEX! I want to be a poet and also, I want to have sex!)
“Gleaming in the dark air, eager and so
trusting you could weep.”
(A video in a classroom, not sure which class. His voice, powerful, cutting, rich, and angry. The image of the lion, the rhythm, the seemingly awkward phrases turned into a new song.)
“From my five arms, and all my hands
from all my white sins forgiven, they feed.”
(College at the University of Washington, a print out, this is the first line of the poem, I got a physical shiver down my spine. This is true. This is true. This is true.)
“The brow of a horse in that moment when
The horse is drinking water so deeply from a trough
It seems to inhale the water, is holy.
I refuse to explain.”
(High school. This line in my head for a week, "the women come and go, talking..." over and over, the rhyme the image. "Let us go then, you and I." I couldn't escape it. I thought he was writing at the same time I was alive. It seemed so of the now, of the here. I remember I hated the title, it didn't seem to fit. I'm not sure why I thought that now.)
“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.”
(College. Oh the BEAR. The devouring nature of this poem. The woods it eats up. I heard later a story of a bunch of poets with Kinnell at a bar. They made Kinnell recite this poem. When it was done, there was silence, then they all yelled, "AGAIN!" I feel that way about this poem.)
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?”
(College. My first apartment on my own. I had a box set of CD's of the beat poets. I'd play it all the time. I'd make my friends listen to it. Over and over. This poem, the whole recording, stuck with me deeply. It still comes to me when I sit down to write. "America...")
“When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?”
(College. "So long away from their tools." This one was hard and cruel. Prison and pain. I would have liked to deny it, but it was fierce and new and mean and then there was a hope, too.)
“as they came in, they leave wondering what good they are now
as they look at their hands so long away from their tools,”
(College. The anaphoras. Simple. "He said" and then, "I remember." And even though the repetitions were simple, they added this amazing power, and this poem was feminism, and song. It's one of the few I can still recite.)
“I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.”
There are so many more, but that's my original lock-box of lingerers. My storage unit of lines that's there for good. I'm so very happy I've saved them.Ada Limón grew up in Glen Ellen and Sonoma, California. A graduate of New York University’s MFA Creative Writing Program, she has received fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and won the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines including, The New Yorker, Harvard Review, and Poetry Daily. She is the author of three books of poetry, Lucky Wreck (Autumn House Press, 2006), This Big Fake World (Pearl Editions, 2007), and Sharks in the Rivers (Milkweed Editions, 2010). She is currently at work on a novel, a book of essays, and a new collection of poems. Find out more about Ada here. Follow Ada on Twitter @adalimon