-delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)
I haven’t given up on trying to live a good life,
a really good one even, sitting in the kitchen
in Kentucky, imagining how agreeable I’ll be –
the advance of fulfillment, and of desire –
all these needs met, then unmet again.
When I was a kid, I was excited about carrots,
their spidery neon tops in the garden’s plot.
And so I ripped them all out. I broke the new roots
and carried them, like a prize, to my father
who scolded me, rightly, for killing his whole crop.
I loved them: my own bright dead things.
I’m thirty-five and remember all that I’ve done wrong.
Yesterday I was nice, but in truth I resented
the contentment of the field. Why must we practice
this surrender? What I mean is: there are days
I still want to kill the carrots because I can.
Bright Dead Things is one of my favorite poetry collections. If you’ve not yet read it, I highly recommend it; looks like today the Kindle version is on sale for $6.91 in the States. (Amazon Link). For further reading, check out these two interviews Ada gave with The Rumpus Poetry Book Club and with Nicole Sealey of National Book Foundation. What follows are selections from that latter interview:
Nicole Sealey: How’d you come to name the collection Bright Dead Things?
Ada Limón: I struggled with the title at first, but when I landed on that phrase, in the poem “I Remember the Carrots,” I knew it was what I wanted. I wanted the title to point to both the living and the dying we’re all doing. The struggle between what destroys us and what keeps us going is something very real to me and real to my work. Additionally, I loved the idea that the poems in the book could be seen as bright dead things themselves—things that are the remnants of the original burst.
I wanted to write the poems I needed to write. Oh, and yes, I’m scared of so many things, aren’t you? I am reminded of that wonderful quote from Georgia O’Keefe: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” That basically defines my life. I keep moving forward despite the sharks, the bears, the violence, the accidents, the wind, the sinkholes, the crocodiles, the rattlesnakes, the silence, the rage, the big empty, all of that. I keep moving forward because someday we won’t be here and I don’t want miss anything.
I’m scared to not appreciate this moment and the people around me. This might sound simple, but I want to be a good person and I want to live to the fullest while I’m here. I’m all right with missing things (I can be a bit of a recluse), but I want to be grateful for what I have and show gratitude to those around me. I think my biggest fear is not living up to this life I’ve been given.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if the world would just sort of pat you on the head like a dog and say, “Good job, you’ve tried really hard.” There is so much to love and wrestle with in this world and I know I’ll keep making mistakes and falling down and getting back up, but I suppose if I can do right by people and keep my head above water during the biggest tidal waves, I’ll be one extremely lucky girl.
And remember we’re all in this together
If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die
“The Once and Future Carpenter” by the Avett Brothers from The Carpenter
A little something different for you today, friends. Usually I share one selection with you per posting, maybe one pairing if I’m feeling industrious, but today I offer you a collection of quotes and poems.
Some of you may remember that before Words for the Year, my friend Jennie and I hosted Words for the Weekend. Instead of single selections, we posted Volumes of curated material each weekend. We’ve since retired that site, but I keep it open out of love and nostalgia; it was my original “baby,” and I still return to it from time to time to read or to cull material for this site.
One of our first volumes was dedicated to gratitude and giving thanks, and we published it around this time of year in 2013. It is that volume I offer you today, and with it, my own thanks and gratitude. You may visit the original volume over at Words for the Weekend, Volume 7: We Are Saying Thank You. And feel free to browse around while you’re there or to bookmark it for later reading; I think you’ll really like it.
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart
In this time of thanks and gratitude, Jennie and I wish you and your loved ones peace, love and an endless supply of chocolate. May you carry your gratitude not just today, but every day. And on the days you forget to carry it, may it ride ever so lightly on your shoulder–a golden butterfly resting her wings–causing everyone around you to marvel and smile in your presence.
Happy holidays, with gratitude. Thank you for being a friend, Christy and Jennie
“Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you’re a pal and a confidant
I’m not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won’t you stand up and take a bow
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see, the biggest gift would be from me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend”
“Flamin’ eyes of people fear
Burnin’ into you
Many men are missin’ much
Hatin’ what they do
Youth and truth are makin’ love
Dig it for a starter, now
Dyin’ young is hard to take
Sellin’ out is harder
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin”
(If you want an instant mood booster, watch this. Dave dancing around the stage = Pure joy, especially at 6:01.)
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” ~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” ~ e e cummings
Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks for the many wonders of life;
For having twenty-four brand new hours before me.
The sun is rising.
The forest becomes my awareness bathed in sunshine.
“The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
“I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they’d slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.” ~ Elizabeth Berg, Open House
“Day and night gifts keep pelting down on us. If we were aware of this, gratefulness would overwhelm us. But we go through life in a daze. A power failure makes us aware of what a gift electricity is; a sprained ankle lets us appreciate walking as a gift, a sleepless night, sleep. How much we are missing in life by noticing gifts only when we are suddenly deprived of them.” ~ David Steindl-Rast
“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” ~ Gautama Buddha
“I give thanks on this day and every day for the ability you gave me to gather the beauty of the land as if it were water that one takes with the lips, and also for the wealth of pain that I can carry in the depths of my soul without dying.” ~ Gabriela Mistral
What it is
I know not,
But with gratitude
My tears fall.
~ Saigyō Hōshi
“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” ~ Thornton Wilder
“If we were always conscious of the fact that people precious to us are frighteningly mortal, hanging not even by a thread, but by a wisp of gossamer, perhaps we would be kinder to them and more grateful for the love and friendship they give to us.” ~ Dean Koontz, Seize the Night
by Mary Oliver
~ “Messenger” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst
by W.S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
“Thanks” by W.S. Merwin, from Migration: New & Selected Poems
You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now. And the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well. . . .
Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water. And drinkable water! It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.
So these are just a few of an enormous number of gifts to which we can open your heart. So I wish you that you would open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you, that everyone whom you will meet on this day will be blessed by you, just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch. Just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. Then it will really be a good day.
“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me
but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.
Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much,
my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…
and then I remember to relax,
and stop trying to hold on to it,
and then it flows through me like rain
and I can’t feel anything but gratitude
for every single moment
of my stupid little life…
You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure.
But don’t worry.
You will someday.”
~ From movie American Beauty, written by Alan Ball
Wallace Stevens, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Copyright 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
“Blackbird Song” by Lee DeWyze