[Book Review] Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay




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/


Good As New

They picked me out of a hodgepodge toy box
and placed me in a white bed of angels, white-smocked
boys and girls stood over me with pencils and erasers
as if I was a tough one to crack, as if something
was multiplying exponentially inside of me.
The nurse put me in a swollen dress someone’s aunt died in
and said tomorrow I should be good as new, oh good as new,
I wondered whom else she said it to, did she say it to
the girl on the other side of the wall who searched
for her left breast with her right hand, who searched
for her left breast with her right hand all night.

By the time they put me in a tumbrel bound for the guillotine,
I already saw the anaesthetist’s red-rimmed eyes,
the surgeon’s red-bladed scythe. Their salted breath
fell on my neck, as Marie Antoinette’s high-wigged head
sagged over the red elms. It was then that I sensed
the place the scalpel was headed, the incision cold and precise.
If I wasn’t afraid, then nothing will ever make me afraid.
The moment I awoke, a distant voice spoke, the words came
undone one stitch at a time, my beautiful rhymes broken,
my lovely years gone, oh my beautiful rhymes broken,
my lovely years gone, gone, gone.

Whatever they took from me turned, turned its color
under the sun, and I was forbidden to go under the sun.
Still, I ran out of the sterile ward at five o’clock and found nothing more
alive than myself, wearing this gauzy dress someone’s aunt died in,
standing between the mossy stones and a lost bee.
I tiptoed around this sudden hole in my belly, catching earthly
elements released from my mother’s womb, and her mother’s,
and her mother’s, and her mother’s, houses of heirlooms. If only I knew
how to return to the warmth of her womb. If only I knew
how to have her bear me again at full moon, a perfect little doll,
seamlessly patched-up, and almost, almost, almost, good as new.


Originally published in Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, issue 9.


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. 

Second Piece

I have nothing to give you, my love,
but a jar of my melted laments.
Be still, it’s too hot to touch.
Shapeless sorrows as such
will burn harder than you remember.
Put it up on the shelf, my love,
it will be there forever.
Let’s smile and drink wine today and
let’s not destroy
that remaining sensibility
of the pointed finger.