To Carry and To Care: A Review of The Carrying By Ada Limón

Milkweed Editions. 95 Pages. ISBN 978-1-57131-512-0

By Sarah LaFleur

Ada Limón’s newest collection of poems, The Carrying, is at once a personal account and universal exploration of what it means to be human: to hurt, want, mourn, and discover life, hopeful and still bent toward the sun, in the moments in between. Limón tackles topics as heavy as death and infertility while describing moments as mundane as taking out the recycling. She overlaps these themes in the same manner that she juxtaposes sparse, confessional language with striking metaphors, creating a tension that reflects the complexity of the human experience.

Some days there is a violent sister inside of me, and a red ladder / that wants to go elsewhere.

Limón’s poems possess a grounded quality through her descriptions of the daily, insignificant moments, but they also attain a higher wisdom in her rich contemplations of the mundane. The poems reflect snapshots of Limón’s life, such as a car drive, conversation with her partner, or observation of nature. Written with casual candor, the poems prepare the reader for Limon’s higher-reaching insights because of the content’s believable and relatable nature. In “Bust,” for example, Limón boards a plane and considers unfinished items on her agenda. As her anxiety escalates, she pushes the reader to a resolution she can’t quite resolve, one that reflects the reality of being a human being with all of her to-dos and impossibilities. Limón writes:


“… Passport and boots that slip on and off,

a sleepy stream through the radiation

machine. A passive pat-down of my outline

and I’m heading somewhere else before

the world has even woken up. I’ve got shit

to do and I need to lose a little weight before

I turn older. There’s the email scan of the bank

statement showing barely enough, the IRS

check, the dentist that’ll have to wait until

payday next month. We do what we have

to do to not cleave the body too quickly.”


“We do what we have to do to not cleave the body too quickly.” Limón’s work encapsulates a visceral tension between the fight to be human and the fight to move beyond it, to “do what we have to do” but still survive - - and aren’t both tasks their own form of survival? Limón’s work forces the reader to grapple with such questions and accept resolutions that merely spiral back onto the questions themselves.

I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.

In one particularly poignant poem, “Dead Stars,” Limón asks these questions again, contemplating existence as she rolls out the recycling bin. She writes,


“…Look, we are not unspectacular things.

We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.

No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,

if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big

people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,

rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?”


Although Limón asks questions that she and the reader can’t answer, her willingness to ask them suggests that a force of grace is at work, both in her poems and in the messiness of life itself, reaching for a reality bigger than what she and her companions in the common struggle survived. The poems in The Carrying offer a gritty, attainable hope for the whole of humanity: “we are not unspectacular things,” and maybe we can “survive more,” “love harder.”

The Carrying reveals the complexity that each human being carries, in both quiet moments such as planting a garden and in heavier experiences such as considering motherhood and the aging process.  In “The Vulture & The Body,” Limón asks:


“What if, instead of carrying / a child, I am supposed to carry grief?”


Her question expresses the weight every person carries, a weight riddled with the tension between trying and surviving, living and dying, being a human being and trying to reach for a higher purpose - - only to discover that we are still human in that process. The bravery of The Carrying helps lighten the load of the impossible questions, reminding the reader that at the heart of such complexity is resilience - - the willingness to live anyway, to try, to be honest, to stay patient with what we can’t reconcile. In “Trying,” Limón reminds us:

“…Even now, I don’t know much

about happiness. I still worry

and want an endless stream of more,

but some days I can see the point in growing something,

even if it’s just to say I cared enough.”


The Carrying reminds us that the willingness to carry and to care is enough.