Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Ross Gay

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 a’flare,

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, 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,

jutting its beak, turning a circle,

and flashing, again,

the ruddy 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 tons — by which I don’t mean lots,

I mean tons — of cowshit

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,

though make the compost writhe giddy and lick its lips,

twirling dung with my pitchfork

again and again

with hundreds and hundreds of other people,

we dreamt an orchard this way,

furrowing our brows,

and hauling our wheelbarrows,

and sweating through our shirts,

and two years 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 tamped by a baby barefoot

with a bow hanging in her hair

biting her lip in her joyous work

and friends this is the realest place I know,

you could ride your bike there

or roller skate or catch the bus

there is a fence and a gate twisted by hand,

there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana,

it will make you gasp.

It 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 fistfulls 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

mercy, mercy, 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 thing’s 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 crocuses flaunted

their upturned skirts, and a quiet roved

the beehive which when I entered

were snugged 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 forelegs 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’s a light blanket,

a pillow, dear one,

for I can feel this is going to be 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 bee’s 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;

thank you the cockeyed court

on which in a half-court 3 v 3 we oldheads

made of some runny-nosed kids

a shambles, and the 61-year-old

after flipping a reverse lay-up off a back door 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 pacemaker’s scar

grinning across his chest; thank you

the glad accordion’s 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 creek’s 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 nearly injure each other

crawling into the shawl of the other’s body.

Thank you say it plain:

fuck each other dumb.

And you, again, you, for the true kindness

it has been for you to remain awake

with me like this, nodding time to time

and making that noise which I take to mean

yes, or, I understand, or, please go 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. I promise

I will try to stay on my side of the couch.

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 arm 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 in 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 ghosts

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

plunge 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

itself between the blueberries,

nary a bayonette, 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

and digging a song from his guitar

made of wood from a tree someone planted, thank you;

thank you zinnia, and gooseberry, rudbeckia

and pawpaw, Ashmead’s kernel, cockscomb

and scarlet runner, feverfew and lemonbalm;

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, too, this knuckleheaded heart, this pelican heart,

this gap-toothed heart flinging open its gaudy maw

to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefucked,

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’ve 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, singing, 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 mother and I planted oozed into the air,

the bazillion ants labored in their earthen workshops

below, the collard greens waved in the wind

like the sails of ships, and the wasps

swam in the mint bloom’s viscous swill;

and you, again you, for hanging tight, dear friend.

I know I can be long winded sometimes.

I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude

over every last thing, including you, which, yes, awkward,

the suds in your ear and armpit, the little sparkling gems

slipping into your eye. 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 this 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.

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