“Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” by Ross Gay

Recently, some of us discussed via comments whether or not the poet is always the best spoken “performer” of their poems. The bottom line seemed to be “it depends” … (doesn’t it always?).

Friends, this is one of those poems that simply could not be delivered by any other than the poet–Ross Gay. It’s one of those poems that is even better performed. I admit, I’d read the poem, and yes I liked it, but having the book, I found myself flipping the pages in search of something with more “instant gratification.” (Ironically, this poem is all about gratification … gratitude. For life, for death, for all the sweet and short and momentous and mundane in between.) Ross’s reading? LOVED IT. I was an emotional hot mess by the end of the poem. Yes, I know it’s long. Yes, I know you’re busy. But trust me on this one.

Take a moment. Turn off the television news. Watch Ross, instead. Drink in his words and let them soothe you like a cup of honeyed tea. Words we so desperately need. Words I am so tearfully grateful for. He wrote them for you. And I share them for you. With gratitude. And thank you. Every day. 

(And with gratitude to Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database for graciously allowing the sharing of Gay’s performance.)

*If you are reading the poem’s text while listening, you’ll note Ross adds a little extra something “off-script/apart from the published text” into the poem, and it is absolutely divine. (FYI- That’s about where I began bawling.)


Ross Gay performs the poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” at the 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation and Witness which took place from April 14-17, 2016 in Washington D. C.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
BY ROSS GAY

Friends, will you bear with me today,
for I have awakened
from a dream in which a robin
made with its shabby wings a kind of veil
behind which it shimmied and stomped something from the south
of Spain, its breast aflare,
looking me dead in the eye
from the branch that grew into my window,
coochie-cooing my chin,
the bird shuffling its little talons left, then right,
while the leaves bristled
against the plaster wall, two of them drifting
onto my blanket while the bird
opened and closed its wings like a matador
giving up on murder,
jutting its beak, turning a circle,
and flashing, again,
the ruddy bombast of its breast
by which I knew upon waking
it was telling me
in no uncertain terms
to bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones,
the whole rusty brass band of gratitude
not quite dormant in my belly—
it said so in a human voice,
“Bellow forth”—
and who among us could ignore such odd
and precise counsel?

Hear ye! hear ye! I am here
to holler that I have hauled tons—by which I don’t mean lots,
I mean tons — of cowshit
and stood ankle deep in swales of maggots
swirling the spent beer grains
the brewery man was good enough to dump off
holding his nose, for they smell very bad,
but make the compost writhe giddy and lick its lips,
twirling dung with my pitchfork
again and again
with hundreds and hundreds of other people,
we dreamt an orchard this way,
furrowing our brows,
and hauling our wheelbarrows,
and sweating through our shirts,
and two years later there was a party
at which trees were sunk into the well-fed earth,
one of which, a liberty apple, after being watered in
was tamped by a baby barefoot
with a bow hanging in her hair
biting her lip in her joyous work
and friends this is the realest place I know,
it makes me squirm like a worm I am so grateful,
you could ride your bike there
or roller skate or catch the bus
there is a fence and a gate twisted by hand,
there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana,
it will make you gasp.
It might make you want to stay alive even, thank you;

and thank you
for not taking my pal when the engine
of his mind dragged him
to swig fistfuls of Xanax and a bottle or two of booze,
and thank you for taking my father
a few years after his own father went down thank you
mercy, mercy, thank you
for not smoking meth with your mother
oh thank you thank you
for leaving and for coming back,
and thank you for what inside my friends’
love bursts like a throng of roadside goldenrod
gleaming into the world,
likely hauling a shovel with her
like one named Aralee ought,
with hands big as a horse’s,
and who, like one named Aralee ought,
will laugh time to time til the juice
runs from her nose; oh
thank you
for the way a small thing’s wail makes
the milk or what once was milk
in us gather into horses
huckle-buckling across a field;

and thank you, friends, when last spring
the hyacinth bells rang
and the crocuses flaunted
their upturned skirts, and a quiet roved
the beehive which when I entered
were snugged two or three dead
fist-sized clutches of bees between the frames,
almost clinging to one another,
this one’s tiny head pushed
into another’s tiny wing,
one’s forelegs resting on another’s face,
the translucent paper of their wings fluttering
beneath my breath and when
a few dropped to the frames beneath:
honey; and after falling down to cry,
everything’s glacial shine.

And thank you, too. And thanks
for the corduroy couch I have put you on.
Put your feet up. Here’s a light blanket,
a pillow, dear one,
for I can feel this is going to be long.
I can’t stop
my gratitude, which includes, dear reader,
you, for staying here with me,
for moving your lips just so as I speak.
Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it.

And thank you the tiny bee’s shadow
perusing these words as I write them.
And the way my love talks quietly
when in the hive,
so quietly, in fact, you cannot hear her
but only notice barely her lips moving
in conversation. Thank you what does not scare her
in me, but makes her reach my way. Thank you the love
she is which hurts sometimes. And the time
she misremembered elephants
in one of my poems which, oh, here
they come, garlanded with morning glory and wisteria
blooms, trombones all the way down to the river.
Thank you the quiet
in which the river bends around the elephant’s
solemn trunk, polishing stones, floating
on its gentle back
the flock of geese flying overhead.

And to the quick and gentle flocking
of men to the old lady falling down
on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently
with the softest parts of their hands
her cane and purple hat,
gathering for her the contents of her purse
and touching her shoulder and elbow;
thank you the cockeyed court
on which in a half-court 3 vs. 3 we oldheads
made of some runny-nosed kids
a shambles, and the 61-year-old
after flipping a reverse lay-up off a back door cut
from my no-look pass to seal the game
ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods
and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker’s scar
grinning across his chest; thank you
the glad accordion’s wheeze
in the chest; thank you the bagpipes.

Thank you to the woman barefoot in a gaudy dress
for stopping her car in the middle of the road
and the tractor trailer behind her, and the van behind it,
whisking a turtle off the road.
Thank you god of gaudy.
Thank you paisley panties.
Thank you the organ up my dress.
Thank you the sheer dress you wore kneeling in my dream
at the creek’s edge and the light
swimming through it. The koi kissing
halos into the glassy air.
The room in my mind with the blinds drawn
where we nearly injure each other
crawling into the shawl of the other’s body.
Thank you for saying it plain:
fuck each other dumb.

And you, again, you, for the true kindness
it has been for you to remain awake
with me like this, nodding time to time
and making that noise which I take to mean
yes, or, I understand, or, please go on
but not too long, or, why are you spitting
so much, or, easy Tiger
hands to yourself. I am excitable.
I am sorry. I am grateful.
I just want us to be friends now, forever.
Take this bowl of blackberries from the garden.
The sun has made them warm.
I picked them just for you. I promise
I will try to stay on my side of the couch.

And thank you the baggie of dreadlocks I found in a drawer
while washing and folding the clothes of our murdered friend;
the photo in which his arm slung
around the sign to “the trail of silences”; thank you
the way before he died he held
his hands open to us; for coming back
in a waft of incense or in the shape of a boy
in another city looking
from between his mother’s legs,
or disappearing into the stacks after brushing by;
for moseying back in dreams where,
seeing us lost and scared
he put his hand on our shoulders
and pointed us to the temple across town;

and thank you to the man all night long
hosing a mist on his early-bloomed
peach tree so that the hard frost
not waste the crop, the ice
in his beard and the ghosts
lifting from him when the warming sun
told him sleep now; thank you
the ancestor who loved you
before she knew you
by smuggling seeds into her braid for the long
journey, who loved you
before he knew you by putting
a walnut tree in the ground, who loved you
before she knew you by not slaughtering
the land; thank you
who did not bulldoze the ancient grove
of dates and olives,
who sailed his keys into the ocean
and walked softly home; who did not fire, who did not
plunge the head into the toilet, who said stop,
don’t do that; who lifted some broken
someone up; who volunteered
the way a plant birthed of the reseeding plant
is called a volunteer, like the plum tree
that marched beside the raised bed
in my garden, like the arugula that marched
itself between the blueberries,
nary a bayonet, nary an army, nary a nation,
which usage of the word volunteer
familiar to gardeners the wide world
made my pal shout “Oh!” and dance
and plunge his knuckles
into the lush soil before gobbling two strawberries
and digging a song from his guitar
made of wood from a tree someone planted, thank you;

[off-script … “and thank you who witnessed you necessary, who witnessed you beautiful … who witnessed you loved, who witnessed you loved, who witnessed you loved … who witnessed you, who witnessed you, who witnessed you … witnessed you necessary, witnessed you unmurderable … alive”]

thank you zinnia, and gooseberry, rudbeckia
and pawpaw, Ashmead’s kernel, cockscomb
and scarlet runner, feverfew and lemonbalm;
thank you knitbone and sweetgrass and sunchoke
and false indigo whose petals stammered apart
by bumblebees good lord please give me a minute…
and moonglow and catkin and crookneck
and painted tongue and seedpod and johnny jump-up;
thank you what in us rackets glad
what gladrackets us;

and thank you, too, this knuckleheaded heart, this pelican heart,
this gap-toothed heart flinging open its gaudy maw
to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefucked,
oh giddy, oh dumbstruck,
oh rickshaw, oh goat twisting
its head at me from my peach tree’s highest branch,
balanced impossibly gobbling the last fruit,
its tongue working like an engine,
a lone sweet drop tumbling by some miracle
into my mouth like the smell of someone I’ve loved;
heart like an elephant screaming
at the bones of its dead;
heart like the lady on the bus
dressed head to toe in gold, the sun
shivering her shiny boots, singing
Erykah Badu to herself
leaning her head against the window;

and thank you the way my father one time came back in a dream
by plucking the two cables beneath my chin
like a bass fiddle’s strings
and played me until I woke singing,
no kidding, singing, smiling,
thank you, thank you,
stumbling into the garden where
the Juneberry’s flowers had burst open
like the bells of French horns, the lily
my mother and I planted oozed into the air,
the bazillion ants labored in their earthen workshops
below, the collard greens waved in the wind
like the sails of ships, and the wasps
swam in the mint bloom’s viscous swill;

and you, again you, for hanging tight, dear friend.
I know I can be long-winded sometimes.
I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude
over every last thing, including you, which, yes, awkward,
the suds in your ear and armpit, the little sparkling gems
slipping into your eye. Soon it will be over,

which is precisely what the child in my dream said,
holding my hand, pointing at the roiling sea and the sky
hurtling our way like so many buffalo,
who said it’s much worse than we think,
and sooner; to whom I said
no duh child in my dreams, what do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?
Goodbye, I mean to say.
And thank you. Every day.

Text as published on Poetryfoundation.org. “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” is from Ross Gay’s book Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay.

 

We Are Saying Thank-You (A Collection)

A little something different for you today, friends. Usually I share one selection with you per posting, maybe one pairing if I’m feeling industrious, but today I offer you a collection of quotes and poems.

Some of you may remember that before Words for the Year, my friend Jennie and I hosted Words for the Weekend. Instead of single selections, we posted Volumes of curated material each weekend. We’ve since retired that site, but I keep it open out of love and nostalgia; it was my original “baby,” and I still return to it from time to time to read or to cull material for this site.

One of our first volumes was dedicated to gratitude and giving thanks, and we published it around this time of year in 2013. It is that volume I offer you today, and with it, my own thanks and gratitude.  You may visit the original volume over at Words for the Weekend, Volume 7: We Are Saying Thank You.  And feel free to browse around while you’re there or to bookmark it for later reading; I think you’ll really like it.


“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

In this time of thanks and gratitude, Jennie and I wish you and your loved ones peace, love and an endless supply of chocolate. May you carry your gratitude not just today, but every day. And on the days you forget to carry it, may it ride ever so lightly on your shoulder–a golden butterfly resting her wings–causing everyone around you to marvel and smile in your presence.

Happy holidays, with gratitude. Thank you for being a friend, Christy and Jennie

"Gold Butterfly"
“Gold Butterfly”

***

“Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you’re a pal and a confidant

I’m not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won’t you stand up and take a bow

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see, the biggest gift would be from me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend”

~ “Thank You For Being a Friend” (video) by Andrew Gold, on Thank You For Being a Friend

***

“Flamin’ eyes of people fear
Burnin’ into you
Many men are missin’ much
Hatin’ what they do
Youth and truth are makin’ love
Dig it for a starter, now
Dyin’ young is hard to take
Sellin’ out is harder

Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin”

~ “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (video) covered by Dave Matthews Band; originally performed by Sly and the Family Stone, on Greatest Hits

(If you want an instant mood booster, watch this. Dave dancing around the stage = Pure joy, especially at 6:01.)

***

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite – only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” ~ Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

***

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” ~ e e cummings

***

Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks for the many wonders of life;
For having twenty-four brand new hours before me.
The sun is rising.
The forest becomes my awareness bathed in sunshine.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

***

“The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

***

“I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they’d slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.” ~ Elizabeth BergOpen House

***

“Day and night gifts keep pelting down on us. If we were aware of this, gratefulness would overwhelm us. But we go through life in a daze. A power failure makes us aware of what a gift electricity is; a sprained ankle lets us appreciate walking as a gift, a sleepless night, sleep. How much we are missing in life by noticing gifts only when we are suddenly deprived of them.” ~ David Steindl-Rast

***

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” ~ Gautama Buddha

***

“I give thanks on this day and every day for the ability you gave me to gather the beauty of the land as if it were water that one takes with the lips, and also for the wealth of pain that I can carry in the depths of my soul without dying.” ~ Gabriela Mistral

***

What it is
I know not,
But with gratitude
My tears fall.
Saigyō Hōshi

***

“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” ~ Thornton Wilder

***

“If we were always conscious of the fact that people precious to us are frighteningly mortal, hanging not even by a thread, but by a wisp of gossamer, perhaps we would be kinder to them and more grateful for the love and friendship they give to us.” ~ Dean Koontz, Seize the Night

***

Vase With 12 Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
Vase With 12 Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh

***

Messenger

by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ “Messenger” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst

***

Thanks

by W.S. Merwin

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

“Thanks” by W.S. Merwin, from Migration: New & Selected Poems

***

~ “A Good Day” (video) by Brother David Steindl-Rast via gratefulness.org:

You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now. And the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well. . . .

Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water. And drinkable water! It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.

So these are just a few of an enormous number of gifts to which we can open your heart. So I wish you that you would open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you, that everyone whom you will meet on this day will be blessed by you, just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch. Just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you. Then it will really be a good day.

***

“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me
but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.
Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much,
my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…

and then I remember to relax,
and stop trying to hold on to it,
and then it flows through me like rain
and I can’t feel anything but gratitude
for every single moment
of my stupid little life…

You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure.
But don’t worry.

You will someday.”

~ From movie American Beauty, written by Alan Ball

***

“So long, and thanks for all the fish.” ~ Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer” by Jane Kenyon

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers … the grass needed mowing ….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.

“Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer” by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005.

A non-cheesy guide to gratefulness: What to read and watch

For the upcoming holidays, a link from the TED Blog:

A non-cheesy guide to gratefulness: What to read and watch

Offers 11 unique suggestions and includes the following video:

 

How can each one of us find a method for living gratefully, not just once in a while being grateful, but moment by moment to be grateful. How can we do it? It’s a very simple method. It’s so simple that it’s actually what we were told as children when we learned to cross the street. Stop. Look. Go. That’s all. But how often do we stop? We rush through life. We don’t stop. We miss the opportunity because we don’t stop. We have to stop. We have to get quiet.And we have to build stop signs into our lives. ~ David Steindl-Rast

Want more ideas on how to add gratitude to your life?

Daily Grateful Living Practice Ideas

30 Daily Grateful Living Practices for you to try including:

Choose a poem that speaks to you and read it a few times in a day. Let it awaken a new experience each time you read it. Notice how no poem is the same poem twice if you read it with true presence. Share the poem with someone.