[Book Review] Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay

 

ross-gay-poetry

 

I wasn’t planning on writing a review on Ross Gay’s newest poetry collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. I finished it rather quickly and put it aside before moving on to other readings. However, for some strange reason, in the following few days, some of the poems kept coming back to me. Certain imageries – always in such vivid colors like the book cover – lingered on in my mind like the intense fragrance of summer roses.

In the poem Burial, which is also one of my favorite poems,  a young man plants a plum tree and scatters his father’s ashes into the roots.

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 places the trees / splaying wide their roots / casting the gray dust of my old man / evenly throughout the hotel /

And the final interpretive scene delivers such intense joy that transcends grief to something else – something hopeful; something truly beautiful. And I can’t help smiling while reading it.

almost dancing now in the plum / in the tree, they way he did as a person / bent over and biting his lip / and chucking the one hip out / then the other with his elbow 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 /

Such joyous celebration of life what drives this poetry collection into the pure magic that makes Ross’ poems stay with the readers for a long long time.

Another favorite of mine is Becoming a Horse. Words cannot express how much I adore this little gem. Our connection to animals, to nature, and to everything beyond our daily world is powerfully manifested in this short poem. It almost makes me envious of the amount of love and passion Ross has for LIFE.

It was dragging my hands along its belly / loosing the bit and wiping the spit / from its mouth made me / a snatch of grass in the thing’s maw / a fly tasting its ear. It was / touching my nose to his made me know / the clover’s bloom, my wet eye to his / made me know the long field’s secret / But it was putting my heart to the horse’s that made me know the sorrow of horses /

 

Reading Ross’ poems just makes me believe more in the power of poetry. I don’t think any other form of writing can grasp a certain feeling and shake it out of us as well as poetry can. Just like what Ross said in his poem Feet, there is no need for poets to explain what they are trying to do. Just show us the steady mumble and clank of machines in the little factory in your head!

I’m trying, I think, to forgive myself / for something I don’t know what / But what I do know is that I love the moment when the poet says / I am trying to do this / or I am trying to do that / Sometimes it’s a horseshit trick. But sometimes / it’s a way by which the poet says / I wish I could tell you / truly, of the little factory / in my head: the smokestacks / cuffing, the dandelions / and purslane and willows of sweet clover / prying through the blacktop / I wish I could tell you / how inside is the steady mumble and clank of machines/

rgay

Daybreak

When she raised her eyes and met his gaze
the train gave an unexpected lurch.
It was an ineffable moment,
like a deer looking up from the plain
for an instant and finding berries.
The sun was rising. His pale blue eyes
and the rye field rolling out behind
his broad shoulder reminded her of
the old town she’d run away from,
where the faded rye no longer danced
when the cold wind blew, and the mad crows
beat their wings against the stony sky.
And as she smiled at him, sunlight broke
through the tin-gray clouds that gathered on
the tip of her tongue all these quiet years.

 

Originally published on January 27th, 2016 on my old blog.

Many Years Later

Many years later, she saw him standing
in the cereal aisle of AJ’s Fine Foods.
He was reading the nutrition label
on a box of frosted flakes, still wearing
his mucky white converse with no shoestrings.

It was nearing seven. The blue between
two clouds grew paler but never vanished.
A bulb of white light quivered, and kept on
quivering still on the blank store ceiling.
Without a sound she turned away to see

if she has found everything she wanted.
Somewhere over the baking supplies aisle,
two shopping carts bumped into each other,
two strangers, mumbling soft apologies,
carefully went on their separate ways.

 

Originally published on January 9th, 2016 on my old blog.

Sylvia

She lay afloat, nakedly undulating
like a great maternal vessel.
Mother of the black corals.
A blinking eye, a quickening vein.
Hope was a mere pinnace to her greying ribcage.

She gathered death like she gathered water
around her wooden body.
Many have capsized this way.
Many who asked for roses got only thorns.
The leviathan approached her at midnight.

At dawn the light was soft like an unspoken wish.
Her hair grew heavy, her eyelids turned to a shade of blue
colder than the north star.
She opened her fists in the pummeled water.
Evergreen terrains stretched by her palms’ end.
Someone awaited her arrival.

The sea never ceased. With great power
it piled waves upon the hardened shores,
as heavy years piled upon the back of a defiant silhouette.
Forever bent but never broken, an ineffable wreckage.

From her sodden cartilages,
we collected things she once loved –
mushrooms and sows, skeletons and stones.
However ugly, however cold.
Our dearest smiling in her own shadow.

We buried everything in the moistened earth – those things,
melted lamps, fish bones, and the fat purple figs
fallen by her toes.
What was left from her pink knuckles and pretty smiles,
sewn together, became the map of a new voyage.

Then on a quiet night like this, her aroma suddenly came
from the norwegian sea, icy yet sweet like a comet.
It travelled through the branches of the moonlit laurels,
through the foliage of fond memories,
through the fingers of the solitary poetess,
through her burning artery, through her ardent hopes,
to the words as yet unborn
from her trembling lips.

In memory of Sylvia Plath

 

Originally published on October 8th, 2015 on my old blog. 

Fall’s Kingdom

On the first day of your claim,
a newborn raises his fist to the faraway trumpets
sounded for the triumphant return of October.

A league of white doves, oracles from the east,
adorn your royal robe with rain-soaked wreaths.
Before the trembling days and the darkened horses,
there are rivers, bright stars, and you

of pulpy lips and fecund breasts,
from which milk of nacre flows,
and fattened squash tumble down
into the palms of our arid endurance.

Your hair is golden as the maple leaves;
your breath is the scent of an apple orchard;
your earlobes, sweet
as the ripened grapes hanging from heaven’s vines,
have been kissed and kissed
by the doting peasants.

On your brow rests the throne of a butterfly,
dignified and full of sunlight.
Those beating wings reign over your vision.
We shall never despair.
We shall never die for want of another lilac
for as long as your courage perseveres.
The hapless take refuge under your sleeves;
the unworthy flee like indignant black moths.
Only one remains. Only one remains.
He is the great oak beneath the harvest moon.
As he bows to your grace, acorns fall to their deaths,
a season’s offering, a tribute to your life.

Your Kingdom.

 

Originally published on September 20th, 2015 on my old blog. 

The Tavern

At the edge of an atlas,
by the border of desert cactus,
stands the lonely tavern.
An unhinged door, moth-eaten lanterns,
and chock-full of dirty feathers.

The sky is a piece of dry cloth.

You move through a generation
of peanut shells.
Abandoned cocoons
fossilized in amber lamplights,
childless, unmoving.

The tavern’s usual patrons
travel from one end to another
in the hourglass’ desert, sifting
through god’s thinning fingers
between each dissipating hour.

The barkeep settles your tab,
five full tankards for five full lies.
There is no salvation for the dried-up souls,
only rum and gin and
an apple

for the the drunken crow.
With a pair of blotched wings,
it flies to the fevered moon, pale-faced,
bearing a glass coffin,

clear as vodka.

 

originally published on September 14th, 2015 on my old blog. 

Third Piece

She practiced her love on every ugly toad,
casually tossing I-love-yous
into the gaping mouths
of those desperate souls.
With each rehearsed declaration, she felt a new sensation,
an unknown tenderness that she carefully learned,
treasured and saved
for the prince.
But those words, uttered too many times,
have slowly swelled up her tongue,
until it grew so prodigious
that she could not close her lips.
So she waited for her prince,
with a gaping mouth,
ugly and desperate,
completely ignored and detested
by her fellow toads.