9780822963318Yesterday evening I had to choose between going to hear M. Scott Momaday or Ross Gay and friends read their work. Oh the riches.

I decided to go hear the author of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Gay) because Keith Taylor’s excellent review of Gay’s work, in The Ann Arbor Observer, reminded me that Gay is one of the poets whose work makes me want to go home and write poems (as many poets’ work does, to tell you the truth) and throw my arms around this gorgeous flawed world, both, at the same time.

Here’s how he inscribed a copy of Catalog for my favorite 16 year old.

gay inscription

How lucky that this book is being shared with you! Poems of gratitude! I hope they are of use–there are some real things growing, some real things alive. Enjoy. -Ross Gay

Thank you Ross Gay, for being as you told us, “excitable.” I’m glad the community orchard in Bloomington, Indiana, has you and that you have it. And I’m glad that you invite the whole range of human emotion into your poems, including the ones many of us have been taught to suspect: joy, celebration, gratitude—reverence, even. And I’m glad you temper all of these with the anguish that it’s impossible not to feel sometimes.

“Armpit,” below,  made me run downstairs and find someone at home to read it to. When I told Ross how much I loved this particular poem, he told me he was glad to know that because, he said, you know how there are some poems you put out there but you’re not sure they’ll land well with others? “It landed right with me,” I said. I love the reverence in it—for books, for the hushed darkness of empty old churches, for parents and from parents, for the human body, and for the voices of birds which can recall us to the bodies we’ve loved. 


First it’s the balm

of light sifting

through the rafters

of the old church

from the neighborhood

I’d break into not for ruckus

but to sit and write

my name in the dust on the pews

and watch the pigeons

roost beside the dozing

and crooked eye of the stained-

glass window the racket

somehow of the street

softened but that

maybe is another poem because

I’m trying to get

to the awkward flock

of flamingoes soaring

somewhere below my navel or

in the back of my throat

or the small house

behind my eyes suddenly

lit up

when sitting in the library’s

silent reading room

above her small stack on seed

saving and plant dyes and


a bookish woman’s hairy armpit flashes

it is summer it is

hot and those flamingoes

as a small boy before the bus came

I’d leap into the bed

beside my father

and push my face into his armpit

his bird’s nest

he called it half-smiling

with a book

in one hand smelling of the night shift

at Pizza Hut

while my mother stood in the doorway

on her way to work

mentioning something about dinner

or maybe the car

though truth is I didn’t listen

I just watched

the light glimmer in drifts

between the rafters

making glow somehow the

wide pine boards

and the dove up there

invisible but making

those noises.

-Ross Gay

Thanks Midwestern Gothic and the Residential College of the University of Michigan for bringing Ross Gay back to Ann Arbor. I’m looking forward to his keynote address at 5 today. Maybe I’ll see you there.