Ross Gay Poems

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1.
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
...

2.
To My Best Friend's Big Sister

One never knows
does one
how one comes to be
...

3.
Prayer for My Unborn Niece or Nephew

Today, November 28th, 2005, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
I am staring at my hands in the common pose
of the hungry and penitent. I am studying again
the emptiness of my clasped hands, wherein I see
...

4.
Again

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.
...

5.
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.
...

6.
Marionette

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.
...

7.
Opera Singer

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.
...

8.
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.
...

9.
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.
...

10.
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
...