Book Review–The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón
The Hurting Kind
by Ada Limón
Milkweed Editions, 2022
reviewed by Bethany Reid
In Ada Limón’s superb, tender new book, The Hurting Kind, the world has broken down. This is her pandemic book, so, no surprise: “I write the year, seems like a year you / should write, huge and round and awful” (“Not the Saddest Thing in the World”). But how lucky to have a guide such as this. Keenly observant, Limón sifts through the shards—in her backyard, in her intimate relationship, in memory—and picks out for us the dazzling edges of every broken thing. “I am the hurting kind,” she tells us in the long poem of that title. And, should you doubt me, consider these lines from poems early in the book:
Suppose it’s easy to slip
into another’s green skin
bury yourself in leaves
and wait for a breaking,
a breaking open, a breaking
So begins “Sanctuary.” If you miss it, the next poem repeats the theme: “What’s the thin break / inescapable, a sudden thud / on the porch, a phone / vibrating with panic on the night stand? Bury the broken thinking” (“Invasive”). And she plays with kinds of brokenness: “I was fifteen and heartbroken” (“A Good Story”). We meet with unexpected groundhogs (broken expectations?) and broken birds (particularly startling, “The First Lesson”: “She pulled it apart / to see how it worked.”). Blighted trees. An egg broken by curious children. A dead foal. Divorce and illness and death. But we have also magnificent frigate-birds, beloved step-parents, and shared meals that are like communion—broken bread. The poem “Salvage,” about a fire-scarred Madrone tree, illuminates the broken halves for us, and the lesson inherent in holding those broken halves:
at the tree for a long time now, I am reminded
of the righteousness I had before the scorch
of time. I miss who I was. I miss who we all were,
before we were this: half-alive to the brightening sky,
half-dead already. I place my hand on the unscarred
bark that is cool and unsullied, and because I cannot
apologize to the tree, to my own self I say, I am sorry.
I am sorry I have been so reckless with your life.
In the next poem, “What Is Handed Down,” the poet reminisces about how her step-father could fix things, and concludes: “Show me how you did it, all those years, / took something that needed repair and repaired it.” Maybe she doesn’t know (yet) how to repair the world for us, but she knows how to embrace brokenness, and—failing that—how to get out the party hats and celebrate brokenness.
Throughout all her books (poems I have read again and again), Limón has a way of addressing darkness while tending toward the consolatory and hopeful. Reading The Hurting Kind, I found myself at times so full of emotion, it was almost too much. And yet, even when the lines teeter on the edge between sentiment (and sometimes prosiness) and poetry, it’s all abundantly worth it. Yes, it’s broken, but as Limón states baldly at the end of “Too Close,” near the end of the book:
But haven’t we learned by now
that just because something
is bound to break
doesn’t mean we shouldn’t
shiver when it breaks?
By the time we reach the final poem, we’re ready for the poet, herself, to break—and it seems nothing will do but her sacred bond with poetry itself. It’s a poem I’ve written into my commonplace book, for the next time I’m feeling the same despair.
The End of Poetry
Enough of osseous and chickadee and sunflower
and snowshoes, maple and seeds, samara and shoot,
enough chiaroscuro, enough of thus and prophecy
and the stoic farmer and faith and our father and ‘tis
of thee, enough of bosom and bud, skin and god
not forgetting and star bodies and frozen birds,
enough of the will to go on and not go on or how
a certain light does a certain thing, enough
of the kneeling and the rising and the looking
inward and the looking up, enough of the gun,
the drama, and the acquaintance’s suicide, the long-lost
letter on the dresser, enough of the longing and
the ego and the obliteration of ego, enough
of the mother and the child and the father and the child
and enough of the pointing to the world, weary
and desperate, enough of the brutal and the border,
enough of can you see me, can you hear me, enough
I am human, enough I am alone and I am desperate,
enough of the animal saving me, enough of the high
water, enough sorrow, enough of the air and its ease,
I am asking you to touch me.
Someone has called this book “transitional,” and I, for one, can’t wait to see what Ada Limón comes up with next.
Bethany Reid has four books of poetry, including Sparrow, which won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize, and Body My House (2018). Her poems, essays, and short stories have recently appeared in One Art, Passengers, Persimmon Tree, Constellations, and elsewhere, and her chapbook, The Thing with Feathers, was published in 2020 as part of Triple No. 10 by Ravenna Press. Bethany and her husband live in Edmonds, Washington, near their three grown daughters; she blogs about writing and life at http://www.bethanyareid.com .