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Wild Card: Ada Limón (WATC)


While on a hike, U.S. poet laureate Ada Limon noticed a sign.

ADA LIMON: The trail marker - and it said, you are here. And I thought, what a good reminder. You are here. I am always trying to remind myself that I am here, not just on this planet but in this moment, in this space right here, you and I talking.

DETROW: That phrase, you are here, stuck with her so much that she used it as the title of a new poetry collection she edited. It features poems about the natural world from over 50 poets.

LIMON: The goal of the project as a whole is a celebration. And I think sometimes when we talk about the urgency of the climate crisis, we can lean into a nihilism and a giving up. And I think the worst thing that we could possibly do right now is to give up.

DETROW: Ada Limon recently joined my colleague Rachel Martin on Wild Card, the show where each week a guest answers questions at random from a deck of cards, questions about the memories, insights and beliefs that shaped their world.


RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: So Round 1 - this is memories, OK? Pick a card - one, two or three.

LIMON: Let's go with one.

MARTIN: OK, one. Oh, this is like a softball for a poet, but here we go. What's a smell that brings back a vivid memory for you?

LIMON: My grandfather and grandmother on my mother's side both made dueling types of fudge because they had their specific fudge that they liked. And his was a hard, sort of old-fashioned kind of fudge, and hers was a soft See's candy fudge. My favorite thing was to go into their cupboard - it was a walk-in cupboard.


LIMON: And they would have all of their, you know, Tupperwares full of their different kinds of fudge for guests and things, and you could just smell it. You couldn't reach it, unfortunately, but you could smell it - so definitely, yeah, the smell of chocolate and the smell of fudge.

MARTIN: Did you spend a lot of time with them growing up?

LIMON: I did, yes, and my grandmother just died this August, and...

MARTIN: Oh, I'm sorry.

LIMON: ...She's been on my mind a lot. So I think that she's with me in my heart.

MARTIN: Was she a lover of poetry?

LIMON: She did like poetry, although she was very confused that not all my poems rhymed. I told her...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LIMON: ...That some of them do. And at one point when my grandfather passed away, she asked me to write a poem for him, and I made it rhyme.


MARTIN: We're moving on to Round 2, insights - OK? - things you have learned or are learning. Pick a card, one through three.

LIMON: OK, three.

MARTIN: When's the last time you forgave yourself for something?

LIMON: This morning (laughter).

MARTIN: Great, top of mind.


MARTIN: Big or small thing - what was it?

LIMON: I have to forgive myself all the time for all sorts of things. I mean, just this morning, I was - you know, I've been traveling a lot, and it's been beautiful. And I'm, you know, going to be traveling again. And I was just getting into meditation. I was doing yoga, which I do every - try to do every morning. And, you know, I was just very stiff, and I just felt very like, oh, I hadn't been moving as much as I should or hadn't been doing - and I was just hard on myself.


LIMON: And then I was like, you know, you were doing amazing things. Like, you were doing other things that mattered, and it's OK.

MARTIN: Yeah, you're good.

LIMON: And I'm very - I think it's very important because I think that early on, I thought all of self-care was really more self-punishing. And I just...

MARTIN: Say more. What does that mean?

LIMON: Oh, it just felt like, you know, like, well, if I don't - if I miss a day of working out, then this.

MARTIN: Oh, right. Yeah.

LIMON: Or if I do this, or if I feast too much and enjoy too much, you know, then therefore, you'll have to - I'll have to, you know, go into...

MARTIN: Deprivation mode.

LIMON: Yes, exactly.

MARTIN: Right.

LIMON: And so I just don't do that anymore. And I think that that's been really healthy for me because I feel like you spend a lot - at least for me - a lot of my, you know, 20s and 30s just trying to do everything right. And the nice thing about being in my mid- to late 40s - yeah, I forgive myself all the time.

MARTIN: Yeah, all the time. I think that's good.

LIMON: Yeah, I have to.


MARTIN: OK, moving on to Round 3. This is beliefs. Final round, Ada.


MARTIN: Pick a card - one, two or three.

LIMON: Three.

MARTIN: Three. Oh, have you ever had a premonition about something that came true?

LIMON: There's many times where I've - I'm a big dreamer, and my dream world is so...

MARTIN: Like, literally and figuratively.

LIMON: Yes, like...

MARTIN: But you mean, like, literally.

LIMON: ...Sleeping, dreams.


LIMON: And so I think that those moments can be slippery for me, whether they were premonitions or if they were dreams. But there's a few times. One of them has been I think that I knew that we weren't going to be able to conceive a child before we decided to give up on fertility treatments. I think I knew that.


LIMON: And I think it actually helped me to make some decisions to not move forward with any more of the treatments. And so I think I just knew. It was also very helpful to me. It felt like my body knew something, and it knew - it was able to offer me another option and another future. And it felt like, OK, now what else is possible?


LIMON: Because I think as women in our culture, the only possibility oftentimes offered to us as motherhood.

MARTIN: That's right.

LIMON: And I felt very bound by that. And letting that go was really freeing. And I love my life, and I love being childfree. And I think that premonition offered that before I even knew it.

MARTIN: Did you have a specific dream or it was just a knowing in your bones?

LIMON: I was floating in the Chesapeake Bay, and I just had this moment of feeling - what if my body was only my body? And it felt really powerful. What if it didn't belong to anyone else...

MARTIN: Whoo (ph).

LIMON: ...And it was just mine?

MARTIN: We never talk about it that way.

LIMON: I never felt it that way. All I wanted was to carry something in me - a baby, a child. And then it was so freeing. And I got out of the ocean. I remember thinking that was beautiful. Like, what if I'm enough?


LIMON: What if just my body - what if these boundaries and these borders of my skin touching the water was enough?

MARTIN: We don't say that. Women don't say that out loud. People don't say that. Sorry, I wasn't weepy (ph). I'm totally going through menopause.

LIMON: They really don't, though.

MARTIN: And so I cry all the time.

LIMON: Me too. Me too.


MARTIN: Oh, my God. Thank you for sharing that.

LIMON: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: It's an intimate thing, and I appreciate you sharing.

LIMON: Thank you for reminding me of it.

MARTIN: Yeah, that's beautiful. Ada Limon, she is the 24th United States Poet Laureate. Her latest project is a book of poems about the natural world called "You Are Here." Ada, what a joy it was to have this conversation with you. Thank you so much for doing it.

LIMON: Thank you so much, Rachel. What a delight.

DETROW: Listen to more from that conversation with Ada Limon on the Wild Card podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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