A Reading by Poet Ross Gay


Catalog of unabashed gratitude – Friends will you bear with me today for I have awakened from a dream in which a Robin made with its shabby wings a kind of veil behind which it shimmied and stomped something from the south of Spain its breast aflare and looking me dead in the eye from the branch that grew into my window coochie-cooing my chin the bird shuffling its little talons left and then right while the leaves bristled against the plaster wall, two of them drifting onto my blanket while the bird opened and closed its wings like a matador giving up on murder shutting its beak turn in a circle and flashing again the ready bombast of its breast by which I knew upon waking it was telling me in no uncertain terms to bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones the whole rusty brass band of gratitude not quite dormant in my belly it said so in a human voice “Bellow forth” – and who among us could ignore such odd and precise counsel hear ye hear ye. I am here to holler that I have hauled tongues by which I don’t mean Lots I mean tons of cows shit and stood ankle-deep in swales of maggots swirling the spent beer grains the brewery man was good enough to dump off holding his nose for they smell very bad but make the compost ride giddy and lick its lips twirling done with my pitchfork again and again and again with hundreds and hundreds of other people we dreamt and orchard this way burrowing our brows and hauling our wheelbarrows and sweating through our shirts and less than a year later there was a party at which trees were sunk into the well-fed earth one of which a Liberty Apple after being watered in was tempt by a baby barefoot with a bow hanging in her hair biting her lip and her joyous work and friends this is the realest place I know it makes me squirm like a worm. I am so grateful you could ride your bike there roller skater catch the bus there’s a fence and a gate twisted by hand without a lock. There is a fig tree taller than you in, Indiana it’ll make you gasp and might make you want to stay alive even. Thank you and thank you for not taking my pal when the engine of his mind dragged him to swig fistfuls of xanax and a bottle or two of booze and thank you for taking my father a few years after his own father went down. Thank you merci merci Thank you for not smoking meth with your mother. Oh, thank you thank you for leaving and for coming back, and thank you for what inside my friends love bursts like a throng of roadside goldenrod gleaming into the world likely hauling a shovel with her like one named Aralee ought, with hands big as a horse’s and who like one named Aralee ought, will laugh time to time til the juice runs from her nose; oh, thank you for the way a small things wail makes the milk or what once was milk in us gather into horses huckle-buckling across a field; and thank you friends when last spring the hyacinth bells rang and the crocus flaunted their upturned skirts and a quiet roved the beehive which when I entered were snug two or three dead fist-sized clutches of bees between the frames, almost clinging to one another this one’s tiny head pushed into another’s tiny wing, one’s four legs resting on another’s face, the translucent paper of their wings fluttering beneath my breath and when a few dropped to the frames beneath: honey: and after falling down to cry everything’s glacial shine. And thank you, too. And thanks for the corduroy couch I have put you on. Put your feet up. Here is a light blanket, a pillow, dear one for I think this might go long. I can’t stop my gratitude, which includes dear reader you for staying here with me for moving your lips just so as I speak. Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it. And thank you the tiny bees shadow perusing these words as I write them. And the way my love talks quietly when in the hive so quietly in fact you cannot hear her but only notice barely her lips moving in conversation. Thank you what does not scare her in me but makes her reach my way. Thank you the love she is which hurts sometimes. And the time she misremembered elephants in one of my poems which, oh here they come, garlanded with morning glory and wisteria blooms, trombones all the way down to the river. Thank you the quiet in which the river bends around the elephant’s solemn trunk polishing stones floating on its gentle back the flock of geese flying overhead. And to the quick and gentle flocking of men to the old lady falling down on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently with the softest parts of their hands her cane and purple hat gathering for her the contents of her purse and touching her shoulder and elbow; and thank you to the cock-eyed basketball court on which in a half-court three on three, we old heads made of some little runny nose kids a shambles and the 61 year old after a flipping a reverse layup off a backdoor cut from my no-look pass to seal the game ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemakers scar grinning across his chest; thank you the glad accordions wheeze in the chest; thank you the bagpipes. Thank you to the woman barefoot in a gaudy dress for stopping her car in the middle of the road and the tractor trailer behind her and the van behind it, whisking a turtle off the road. Thank you. God of gaudy. Thank you paisley panties. Thank you the organ up my dress. Thank you the sheer dress you wore kneeling in my dream at the creeks edge and the light swimming through it. The koi kissing halos into the glassy air. The room in my mind with the blinds drawn where we where we nearly injured each other crawling into the shawl of each other’s body. Thank you when I just say it plain. We fuck each other dumb. and you again, you, for remaining here and awake with me like this nodding time to time or making that noise which I take to mean ‘yes’ or ‘I understand’ or ‘please come on, but not too long’ or ‘Why are you spitting so much?’ or ‘Easy Tiger hands to yourself.’ I am excitable. I am sorry. I am grateful. I just want us to be friends now, forever. Take this bowl of blackberries from the garden. The sun has made them warm. I picked them just for you. And thank you the baggie of dreadlocks. I found in a drawer while washing and folding the clothes of our murdered friend; the photo in which his arms slung around the sign to ‘the trail of silences’; thank you the way before he died, he held his hands open to us; for coming back in a waft of incense or in the shape of a boy in another city looking from between his mother’s legs, or disappearing into the stacks after brushing by; for moseying back and dreams where seeing us lost and scared he put his hand on our shoulders and pointed us to the temple across town; and thank you to the man all night long Hosing a mist on his early bloomed peach tree so that the hard frost not waste the crop, the ice in his beard and the ghost lifting from him when the warming sun told him ‘sleep now’; thank you the ancestor who loved you before she knew you by smuggling seeds into her braid for the long journey, who loved you before he knew you by putting a walnut tree in the ground,. who loved you before she knew you by not slaughtering the land; thank you who did not bulldoze the ancient grove of dates and olives who sailed his keys into the ocean and walked softly home; who did not fire who did not clench the head into the toilet who said ‘Stop don’t do that’, who lifted some broken someone up, who volunteered the way a plant birthed of the reseeding plant is called a ‘volunteer’ like the plum tree that marched beside the raised bed in my garden like the arugula that marched herself between the blueberries nary a bayonet nary an army nary a nation, which usage of the word volunteer familiar to gardeners the wide world made my pal shout “Oh!” and dance and plunge his knuckles into the lush soil before gobbling two strawberries that to get a song from his guitar made of wood from a tree someone maybe planted, thank you; thank you zinnia and gooseberry rudbeckia and pawpaw Ashmead’s kerne, cockscomb and scarlet runner, feverfew and lemon balm; thank you knitbone and sweetgrass and sunchoke and false indigo whose petals stammered apart by bumblebees good lord, please give me a minute… and moonglow and catkin and crookneck and painted tongue and seedpod and johnny jump-up; thank you what in us rackets glad what gladrackets us; and thank you to this knuckleheaded heart this pelican heart this gap-toothed heart flinging open its guarding maw to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefuck, oh giddy, oh dumbstruck, oh rickshaw, oh goat twisting its head at me from my peach tree’s highest branch, balanced impossibly gobbling the last fruit its tongue working like an engine, a lone, sweet drop tumbling by some miracle into my mouth like the smell of someone I have loved; heart like an elephant screaming at the bones of its dead; heart like the lady on the bus dressed head-to-toe in gold, the sun shivering her shiny boots, singing Erykah Badu to herself leaning her head against the window; and thank you the way my father one time came back in a dream by plucking the two cables beneath my chin like a bass fiddle’s strings and played me until I woke singing, no kidding I was singing and smiling ‘Thank you, thank you’, stumbling into the garden where the juneberry’s flowers had burst open like the bells of French horns, the lily my mom and I planted oozed into the air, the bazilion ants labored and their earth and workshops below and collard greens were waving in the wind like the sails of ships and the wasp swam, and the mint bloom’s viscous swill; and you and you for hanging tight with me I know I can be long-winded sometimes. I just want so badly so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude over every single thing which includes you, which is awkward; that’s soap running behind your scarf behind your glasses. Soon it will be over, which is precisely what the child in my dream said, holding my hand pointing at the roiling sea and the sky hurtling our way like so many buffalo, who said ‘It’s much worse than we think, and sooner’, to whom I said ‘No, duh child in my dreams’ , what do you think this singing and shuddering is what they’re screaming and reaching and dancing and crying is, other than loving what every second goes away? Goodbye I mean to say and thank you every day. Thank you

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