On Words That Matter #1: Ross Gay’s “catalogue of unabashed gratitude”

As a small gesture of what I can do in this time, I want to share a joyful book, yes a joyful book of poems that at the same time doesn’t deny the active sorrow of this world or the current crisis of race in this country. I offer up the power of Ross Gay’s “catalogue of unabashed gratitude.” Published in 2015, these poems are a prescient act of the resilience required for this time, just five years later. Ross Gay does not deny sorrow nor does he note it, then tuck it away to move on to better things—as many do. In these poems he both transforms and integrates the losses and the oppression that marks racism. And he gives thanks for what he can: the light, the gardens, the growth that time brings to a mind both troubled and observing, or terrorized and seeking. He writes much of plants and bodies, but always in his lines lives also the awareness of injustice and of tragedies that mark a life lived black in our amnesiac nation. His poems are an affirmation and a pleasure, and at the same time a review of consciousness I need to touch on every day. I recommend all his poems, but do read “patience,” read “the puritan in me” (the dark humor there!), most of all read his long, rollicking, amazing title poem, “catalogue of unabashed gratitude.” Read it more than once because it will bring you more than the sorrow and happiness of his experience, it will bring you a specific and vital world, and it will announce, in wildly vivid language, the contradictions and complexities of black living, of full living. Listen:

“…and the cherry tomatoes shone like ornaments
on a drunken Christmas tree and the blackberry vines

gnawed through their rusty, half-assed trellis.
This is Indiana, where I am really not from, where

for years Negroes weren’t even allowed entry
and where the rest stop graffiti might confirm

the endurance of such sentiment…”

That’s how he rolls, cherry tomatoes and racist graffiti. You’re never far from one or the other, and because of that, you never lose touch with either his remarkable capacity for holding light, and the depth of his grief.