American Life in Poetry: Almost Forty An Old Story

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

The insane birds in “Almost Forty”, by the always eloquent and emotionally generous poet, Ada Limón, seem to be warning of the coming of winter, but it is time, really, and its passing, that they anthem.

Yet, Limón finds strained but necessary comfort in the defiance that comes from desiring a long life and good health.

Almost Forty An Old Story
By Ada Limón

The birds were being so bizarre today,
we stood static and listened to them insane

in their winter shock of sweet gum and ash.
We swallow what we won’t say: Maybe

it’s a warning. Maybe they’re screaming
for us to take cover. Inside, your father

seems angry, and the soup’s grown cold
on the stove. I’ve never been someone

to wish for too much, but now I say,
I want to live a long time. You look up

from your work and nod. Yes, but
in good health. We turn up the stove

again and eat what we’ve made together,
each bite an ordinary weapon we wield

against the shrinking of mouths.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2018 by Ada Limón, "Almost Forty" from The Carrying, (Milkweed Editions, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Permissions Company, LLC and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.