Illustration by Anne le Guern

It was the winter of manatees, Captain
Rhonda and her chartered pontoon boat
floating down the Crystal River. It was the winter

you hurt me and that day of dumb hearts
when you brought me truffles and perfume
like a performance. At the tiki bar in the cold

February Florida wind Rihanna played over
the staticky speakers that were hidden
behind a fake coconut, something about giving up,

or saying something. At the restaurant later, the couple
we laughed at, in their late fifties, for maybe being
swingers, all the uniform tables, identical roses

in cheap plastic vases. Even my deep cleavage
and the layer cake were trying too hard. Still, we
committed to the event of us and made a joke

about not hurting each other again. We weren’t
married yet, everyone was free to leave, and the next
afternoon you went to work and I took a boat

down the river to see the manatees. It was back
when I got lonely often, I called and asked
if I could bring my dog on the boat. I couldn’t.

So tranquil and patient, the manatees moving, so many
mysteries even in the shallow water. Captain
Rhonda showed us their hideouts, their shadowy places.

People took pictures and pointed and you could see
the scars on the older animals from propeller blades
and still they rolled on together in the silent water.

Back on shore, you found me by the too-cold pool
watching a group of loud teenagers drink
in the hot tub. One shirtless boy kept flexing and flexing

while the girls, engrossed in conversation, never noticed.
And aren’t we all alone in the end?
You put your head for a moment against my chest.

Then, all I could hear was our breathing, and I understood
we were both human and animal-hearted,
bound to the blades, and bound to outrun them.

Ada Limón

Ada Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Her book Bright Dead Things was nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Her work has been supported most recently by a Guggenheim Fellowship. She grew up in Sonoma, California, and now lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she writes, teaches remotely, and hosts the critically acclaimed poetry podcast The Slowdown. Her new book of poetry, The Hurting Kind, is out now from Milkweed Editions. She is the twenty-fourth poet laureate of the United States.