Biography of Ross Gay
Ross Gay is an American poet and professor.
Ross Gay was born August 1, 1974 to a Black father and white mother in Youngstown, Ohio, but he grew up in Levittown, Pennsylvania. He received his B.A. from Lafayette College, his MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, and his Ph.D. in American Literature from Temple University, and is a basketball coach, an occasional demolition man and a painter.
He has taught poetry, art and literature at Lafayette College in Easton, PA and Montclair State University in New Jersey. He now teaches at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and the low-residency MFA in poetry program at Drew University.
His poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Columbia: A Journal of Poetry and Art, Margie: The American Journal of Poetry and Atlanta Review, and in anthologies including From the Fishouse (Persea Books, 2009). His honors include being a Cave Canem Workshop fellow and a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Tuition Scholar, and he received a grant from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts.
Ross Gay Poems
For Some Slight I Can'T Quite Recall
Was with the pudgy hands of a thirteen-year-old that I took the marble of his head just barely balanced on his reedy neck
To My Best Friend's Big Sister
One never knows does one how one comes to be
Within Two Weeks the African American Po...
If you think you know enough to say this poem is about good hair, I'll correct you and tell you it's about history which is the blacksmith of our tongues. Our eyes. Where you see misunderstanding I see knuckles and teeth for sale in a storefront window. I see the waterlogged face of the fourteen-year-old boy. The bullet's imperceptible sizzle toward an unarmed man. And as you ask me to sign the book that is not mine, your gaze shifting between me and the author's photo, whispering, but that's not you? I do not feel sorry for you. No. I think only that when a man is a concept he will tell you about the smell of smoke. He will tell you the distance between heartbreak and rage.
for Keith and Jen Friends I am here to modestly report seeing in an orchard in my town a goldfinch kissing a sunflower again and again dangling upside down by its tiny claws steadying itself by snapping open like an old-timey fan its wings again and again, until, swooning, it tumbled off and swooped back to the very same perch, where the sunflower curled its giant swirling of seeds around the bird and leaned back to admire the soft wind nudging the bird's plumage, and friends I could see the points on the flower's stately crown soften and curl inward as it almost indiscernibly lifted the food of its body to the bird's nuzzling mouth whose fervor I could hear from oh 20 or 30 feet away and see from the tiny hulls that sailed from their good racket, which good racket, I have to say was making me blush, and rock up on my tippy-toes, and just barely purse my lips with what I realize now was being, simply, glad, which such love, if we let it, makes us feel.
Because he was 38, because this was his second job, because he had two daughters, because his hands looked like my father's, because at 7 he would walk to the furniture warehouse, unload trucks 'til 3 AM, because I was fourteen and training him, because he made $3.75 an hour, because he had a wife to look in the face, because he acted like he respected me, because he was sick and would not call out I didn't blink when the water dropped from his nose into the onion's perfectly circular mouth on the Whopper Jr. I coached him through preparing. I did not blink. Tell me this didn't happen. I dare you.
If you find yourself half naked and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing, again, the earth's great, sonorous moan that says you are the air of the now and gone, that says all you love will turn to dust, and will meet you there, do not raise your fist. Do not raise your small voice against it. And do not take cover. Instead, curl your toes into the grass, watch the cloud ascending from your lips. Walk through the garden's dormant splendor. Say only, thank you. Thank you.
Sorrow Is Not My Name
—after Gwendolyn Brooks No matter the pull toward brink. No matter the florid, deep sleep awaits. There is a time for everything. Look, just this morning a vulture nodded his red, grizzled head at me, and I looked at him, admiring the sickle of his beak. Then the wind kicked up, and, after arranging that good suit of feathers he up and took off. Just like that. And to boot, there are, on this planet alone, something like two million naturally occurring sweet things, some with names so generous as to kick the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon, stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks at the market. Think of that. The long night, the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah. But look; my niece is running through a field calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel and at the end of my block is a basketball court. I remember. My color's green. I'm spring. —for Walter Aikens
Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ, 8:00 AM
It's the shivering. When rage grows hot as an army of red ants and forces the mind to quiet the body, the quakes emerge, sometimes just the knees, but, at worst, through the hips, chest, neck until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped to squeeze words from my taut lips, his eyes scanning my car's insides, my eyes, my license, and as I answer the questions 3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice, his hand massaging the gun butt, I imagine things I don't want to and inside beg this to end before the shiver catches my hands, and he sees, and something happens.
Poem to My Child, If Ever You Shall Be
—after Steve Scafidi The way the universe sat waiting to become, quietly, in the nether of space and time, you too remain some cellular snuggle dangling between my legs, curled in the warm swim of my mostly quietest self. If you come to be— And who knows?—I wonder, little bubble of unbudded capillaries, little one ever aswirl in my vascular galaxies, what would you think of this world which turns itself steadily into an oblivion that hurts, and hurts bad? Would you curse me my careless caressing you into this world or would you rise up and, mustering all your strength into that tiny throat which one day, no doubt, would grow big and strong, scream and scream and scream until you break the back of one injustice, or at least get to your knees to kiss back to life some roadkill? I have so many questions for you, for you are closer to me than anyone has ever been, tumbling, as you are, this second, through my heart's every chamber, your teeny mouth singing along with the half-broke workhorse's steady boom and gasp. And since we're talking today I should tell you, though I know you sneak a peek sometimes through your father's eyes, it's a glorious day, and there are millions of leaves collecting against the curbs, and they're the most delicate shade of gold we've ever seen and must favor the transparent wings of the angels you're swimming with, little angel. And as to your mother—well, I don't know— but my guess is that lilac bursts from her throat and she is both honeybee and wasp and some kind of moan to boot and probably she dances in the morning— but who knows? You'll swim beneath that bridge if it comes. For now let me tell you about the bush called honeysuckle that the sad call a weed, and how you could push your little sun-licked face into the throngs and breathe and breathe. Sweetness would be your name, and you would wonder why four of your teeth are so sharp, and the tiny mountain range of your knuckles so hard. And you would throw back your head and open your mouth at the cows lowing their human songs in the field, and the pigs swimming in shit and clover, and everything on this earth, little dreamer, little dreamer of the new world, holy, every rain drop and sand grain and blade of grass worthy of gasp and joy and love, tiny shaman, tiny blood thrust, tiny trillion cells trilling and trilling, little dreamer, little hard hat, little heartbeat, little best of me.
A Poem in which I Try to Express My Glee...
—for Patrick Rosal Because I must not get up to throw down in a café in the Midwest, I hold something like a clownfaced herd of bareback and winged elephants stomping in my chest, I hold a thousand kites in a field loosed from their tethers at once, I feel my skeleton losing track somewhat of the science I've made of tamp, feel it rising up shriek and groove, rising up a river guzzling a monsoon, not to mention the butterflies of the loins, the hummingbirds of the loins, the thousand dromedaries of the loins, oh body of sunburst, body of larkspur and honeysuckle and honeysuccor bloom, body of treetop holler, oh lightspeed body of gasp and systole, the mandible's ramble, the clavicle swoon, the spine's trillion teeth oh, drift of hip oh, trill of ribs, oh synaptic clamor and juggernaut swell oh gutracket blastoff and sugartongue syntax oh throb and pulse and rivulet swing and glottal thing and kick-start heart and heel-toe heart ooh ooh ooh a bullfight where the bull might take flight and win! —for Patrick Rosal Because I must not get up to throw down in a café in the Midwest, I hold something like a clownfaced herd of bareback and winged elephants stomping in my chest, I hold a thousand kites in a field loosed from their tethers at once, I feel my skeleton losing track somewhat of the science I've made of tamp, feel it rising up shriek and groove, rising up a river guzzling a monsoon, not to mention the butterflies of the loins, the hummingbirds of the loins, the thousand dromedaries of the loins, oh body of sunburst, body of larkspur and honeysuckle and honeysuccor bloom, body of treetop holler, oh lightspeed body of gasp and systole, the mandible's ramble, the clavicle swoon, the spine's trillion teeth oh, drift of hip oh, trill of ribs, oh synaptic clamor and juggernaut swell oh gutracket blastoff and sugartongue syntax oh throb and pulse and rivulet swing and glottal thing and kick-start heart and heel-toe heart ooh ooh ooh a bullfight where the bull might take flight and win!
Today my heart is so goddamned fat with grief that I've begun hauling it in a wheelbarrow. No. It's an anvil dragging from my neck as I swim through choppy waters swollen with the putrid corpses of hippos, which means lurking, somewhere below, is the hungry snout of a croc waiting to spin me into an oblivion worse than this run-on simile, which means only to say: I'm sad. And everyone knows what that means. And in my sadness I'll walk to a café, and not see light in the trees, nor finger the bills in my pocket as I pass the boarded houses on the block. No, I will be slogging through the obscure country of my sadness in all its monotone flourish, and so imagine my surprise when my self-absorption gets usurped by the sound of opera streaming from an open window, and the sun peeks ever-so-slightly from behind his shawl, and this singing is getting closer, so that I can hear the delicately rolled r's like a hummingbird fluttering the tongue which means a language more beautiful than my own, and I don't recognize the song though I'm jogging toward it and can hear the woman's breathing through the record's imperfections and above me two bluebirds dive and dart and a rogue mulberry branch leaning over an abandoned lot drags itself across my face, staining it purple and looking, now, like a mad warrior of glee and relief I run down the street, and I forgot to mention the fifty or so kids running behind me, some in diapers, some barefoot, all of them winged and waving their pacifiers and training wheels and nearly trampling me when in a doorway I see a woman in slippers and a floral housedress blowing in the warm breeze who is maybe seventy painting the doorway and friends, it is not too much to say it was heaven sailing from her mouth and all the fish in the sea and giraffe saunter and sugar in my tea and the forgotten angles of love and every name of the unborn and dead from this abuelita only glancing at me before turning back to her earnest work of brushstroke and lullaby and because we all know the tongue's clumsy thudding makes of miracles anecdotes let me stop here and tell you I said thank you.
for Amadou Diallo The few strings snap and pull the doll's flimsy limbs for his last ballet, an American piece, arms flung like a flamingo's wings, his sashay a flame's undulation, dip, wave, head snapped into a skygaze, a pained grin white beneath the doorway's light, legs braiding in the climactic pirouette, convulsive shoulders rolling, the body's final drift smooth as a sun-baked bloodflake flecked off a rhino's horn, the gored corpse sweet meat to a smoky gauze of ravenous flies humming and blood- sucking tiny gunpowder-singed hearts, charred kiss marks, until, at last, the strings go slack, the doll sprawls in a crippled collapse, his face half lit, the puppeteers praising this black ghost's steel-pierced, last dying quake, the dead sweet and clean, and that last wheeze, an escaping, you've heard it, drops the floodgates for the real ghosts, a bouqet of them, a blitzkrieg of black orchids roaring. And they blaze.
Love, I'm Done with You
You ever wake up with your footie PJs warming your neck like a noose? Ever upchuck after a home-cooked meal? Or notice how the blood on the bottoms of your feet just won't seem to go away? Love, it used to be you could retire your toothbrush for like two or three days and still I'd push my downy face into your neck. Used to be I hung on your every word. (Sing! you'd say: and I was a bird. Freedom! you'd say: and I never really knew what that meant, but liked the way it rang like a rusty bell.) Used to be. But now I can tell you your breath stinks and you're full of shit. You have more lies about yourself than bodies beneath your bed. Rooting for the underdog. Team player. Hook, line and sinker. Love, you helped design the brick that built the walls around the castle in the basement of which is a vault inside of which is another vault inside of which . . . you get my point. Your tongue is made of honey but flicks like a snake's. Voice like a bird but everyone's ears are bleeding. From the inside your house shines and shines, but from outside you can see it's built from bones. From out here it looks like a graveyard, and the garden's all ash. And besides, your breath stinks. We're through.
Because I love you, and beneath the uncountable stars I have become the delicate piston threading itself through your chest, I want to tell you a story I shouldn't but will and in the meantime neglect, Love, the discordant melody spilling from my ears but attend, instead, to this tale, for a river burns inside my mouth and it wants both purgation and to eternally sip your thousand drippings; and in the story is a dog and unnamed it leads to less heartbreak, so name him Max, and in the story are neighborhood kids who spin a yarn about Max like I'm singing to you, except they tell a child, a boy who only moments earlier had been wending through sticker bushes to pick juicy rubies, whose chin was, in fact, stained with them, and combining in their story the big kids make the boy who shall remain unnamed believe Max to be sick and rabid, and say his limp and regular smell of piss are just two signs, but the worst of it, they say, is that he'll likely find you in the night, and the big kids do not giggle, and the boy does not giggle, but lets the final berries in his hand drop into the overgrowth at his feet, and if I spoke the dream of the unnamed boy I fear my tongue would turn an arm of fire so I won't, but know inside the boy's head grew a fire beneath the same stars as you and I, Love, your leg between mine, the fine hairs on your upper thigh nearly glistening in the night, and the boy, the night, the incalculable mysteries as he sleeps with a stuffed animal tucked beneath his chin and rolls tight against his brother in their shared bed, who rolls away, and you know by now there is no salve to quell his mind's roaring machinery and I shouldn't tell you, but I will, the unnamed boy on the third night of the dreams which harden his soft face puts on pants and a sweatshirt and quietly takes the spade from the den and more quietly leaves his house where upstairs his father lies dreamless, and his mother bends her body into his, and beneath these same stars, Love, which often, when I study them, seem to recede like so many of the lies of light, the boy walks to the yard where Max lives attached to a steel cable spanning the lawn, and the boy brings hot dogs which he learned from Tom & Jerry, and nearly urinating in his pants he tosses them toward the quiet and crippled thing limping across the lawn, the cable whispering above the dew-slick grass, and Max whimpers, and the boy sees a wolf where stands this ratty and sad and groveling dog and beneath these very stars Max raises his head to look at the unnamed boy with one glaucous eye nearly glued shut and the other wet from the cool breeze and wheezing Max catches the gaze of the boy who sees, at last, the raw skin on the dog's flank, the quiver of his spindly legs, and as Max bends his nose to the franks the boy watches him struggle to snatch the meat with gums, and bringing the shovel down he bends to lift the meat to Max's toothless mouth, and rubs the length of his throat and chin, Max arching his neck with his eyes closed, now, and licking the boy's round face, until the boy unchains the dog, and stands, taking slow steps backward through the wet grass and feels, for the first time in days, the breath in his lungs, which is cool, and a little damp, spilling over his small lips, and he feels, again, his feet beneath him, and the earth beneath them, and starlings singing the morning in, and the somber movement of beetles chewing the leaves of the white birch, glinting in the dark, and he notices, Darling, an upturned nest beneath the tree, and flips it looking for the blue eggs of robins, but finds none, and placing a rumpled crimson feather in his mouth slips the spindly thicket into another tree, which he climbs to watch the first hint of light glancing above the fields, and the boy eventually returns to his thorny fruit bush where an occasional prick leaves on his arm or leg a spot of blood the color of these raspberries and tasting of salt, and filling his upturned shirt with them he beams that he could pull from the earth that which might make you smile, Love, which you'll find in the fridge, on the bottom shelf, behind the milk, in the bowl you made with your own lovely hands.
Today my heart is so goddamned fat with grief
that I've begun hauling it in a wheelbarrow. No. It's an anvil
dragging from my neck as I swim
through choppy waters swollen with the putrid corpses of hippos,
which means lurking, somewhere below, is the hungry
snout of a croc waiting to spin me into an oblivion
worse than this run-on simile, which means only to say:
I'm sad. And everyone knows what that means.