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Andy Goldsworthy, Roof, 2004-2005

Andy Goldsworthy, Roof, 2004-2005, Buckingham Virginia slate, Patrons' Permanent Fund, 2005.86.1

In the End, Everything Gives

Ada Limón


What is above us?

    The bleary algorithm of patterns, leaves,

        towering history of law and lore?


Outside the gates, the chaotic hush of flesh

    and bone, a kind of clamoring, cannon fire,

        or a brass band, a choir of tree limbs asking:


What have we made? Who holds you?


Where resides our genius? Our courageousness of action,

    name the glory, rename the glory, pin it down

        in a book of legacies, ink, and stone.


There is a word that returns to me: Realm. 

    Someone on a train shrugs cartoonish,  

    “What gives?” And the answer: Everything.


Everything gives way, the shorelines, the house decaying 

    and becoming shrub and moss and haunt, the body

        that gives and gives until it cannot give anymore.


When sleepless as a child, my mother would draw my face,

    not with charcoal or oil paints, but with her fingers

        simply circling my features. Here are your eyes.


Here are your eyebrows, your nose, your mouth, your chin, 

    and your whole face, round and round, this is you.


This was when I understood boundaries, that she could

    see my shapes, and I was made of circles and she

        was made of circles. All of us modest etchings


in the landscape, a fingernail dug into the side of a tree,

    little winces, let me count the ways, let me count the days,

        all the circles of us end eventually. 


The light is its own story. When there is a hole in a roof,

    what is the roof, the roof or the sky itself? Maybe that’s

        the real story, neither one belonging to each other.


There is a word that returns again: Realm. 


I sat by a train window and traced my palm when I missed

    my mother. I was giving myself a circle, this is your palm,

        a circle which is also nature, a strangeness that is you.


What is grandeur? Who is keeping score?


I believe in the circle, in light that surprises me, when I can

    believe nothing. The palm reaching out is a gesture, 

        a boundary, a circle one could slip through, or something

you could hold and in turn it could hold you back.


Please note: We have tried to preserve the formatting of poems, but some devices may distort how text appears. Read the poem in its original formatting here.

Ada Limón

24th Poet Laureate of the United States

August 25, 2023