Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hodgepodge 33/365 - Poetry (Ross Gay)

I am trying to institute an early-morning routine of getting up and feeding the animals while coffee brews, taking a cup upstairs to help me read a little poetry, then sitting (see yesterday's post), before getting on with writing and research. Today was day one! So far, so good!

I started this morning on a book of poems that I've heard heartily recommended, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay. First, what a title. But second, man! What a poet!

Coincidentally, this afternoon on Facebook I saw this post by Mark Doty (whose poem "Long Point Light" I shared in November): "Tonight at Rutgers Ross Gay gave a remarkable reading of new prose poems and poems from his amazing 2015 Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, ending with the grand calliope and organ music of the title poem. I've been going to poetry readings for, um, 47 years, and I could count the ones that moved me this much on fewer than my ten digits. It's a privilege to live in a time when poems like these are being written, and to hear them. Just as the dreamed bird enjoins the speaker to 'bellow forth,' Gay's poem challenges his audience to sing and to praise. To quote Ross, who is himself paraphrasing Nazim Hikmet, I do not take this lightly."

That poem is twelve pages long, so I will not reprint it here. I will instead give you one (only four pages) that I found especially moving today, this week, after having attended a funeral on Monday and been along "in spirit" at the memorial service of a friend's grandfather on the island of Kaua'i yesterday. The poem also made me think of my father. (All three men were cremated.) It's called


You're right, you're right, 
the fertilizer's good—
it wasn't a gang of dullards
came up with chucking
a fish in the planting hole
or some midwife got lucky
with the placenta—
oh, I'll plant a tree here!—
and a sudden flush of quince 
and jam enough for months—yes,
the magic dust our bodies become 
casts spells on the roots
about which someone else
could tell you the chemical processes,
but it's just magic to me,
which is why a couple springs ago
when first putting in my two bare root plum trees
out back I took the jar which has become
my father's house,
and lonely for him and hoping to coax him back
for my mother as much as me,
poured some of him in the planting holes
and he dove in glad for the robust air,
saddling a slight gust
into my nose and mouth,
chuckling as I coughed,
but mostly he disappeared
into the minor yawns in the earth
into which I placed the trees,
splaying wide their roots,
casting the gray dust of my old man
evenly throughout the hole,
replacing then the clods
of dense Indiana soil until the roots
and my father were buried,
watering it in all with one hand
while holding the tree
with the other straight as the flag
to the nation of simple joy
of which my father is now a naturalized citizen,
waving the flag
from his subterranean lair,
the roots curled around him
like shawls or jungle gyms, like
hookahs or the arms of ancestors,
before breast-stroking into the xylem,
riding the elevator up
through the cambium and into the leaves where,
when you put your ear close enough,
you can hear him whisper
good morning, where, if you close your eyes
and push your face you can feel 
his stubby jowls and good lord
this year he was giddy at the first
real fruit set and nestled into the 30 or 40 plums
in the two trees, peering out from the sweet meat
with his hands pressed against the purple skin
like cathedral glass,
and imagine his joy as the sun
wizarded forth those abundant sugars
and I plodded barefoot
and prayerful at the first ripe plum's swell and blush,
almost weepy conjuring 
some surely ponderous verse
to convey this bottomless grace,
you know, oh father oh father kind of stuff,
hundreds of hot air balloons
filling the sky in my chest, replacing his intubated body
listing like a boat keep side up, replacing
the stead stream of water from the one eye
which his brother wiped before removing the tube,
keeping his hand on the forehead
until the last wind in his body wandered off,
while my brother wailed like an animal,
and my mother said, weeping, 
it's ok, it's ok, you can go honey,
at all of which my father
guffawed by kicking from the first bite
buckets of juice down my chin,
staining one of my two button-down shirts,
the salmon-colored silk one, hollering
there's more of that!
almost dancing now in the plum,
in the tree, the way he did as a person,
bent over and biting his lip
and chucking the one hip out
then the other with his elbows cocked
and fists loosely made
and eyes closed and mouth made trumpet
when he knew he could make you happy
just by being a little silly 
and sweet.

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