Life of a Poet: Ross Gay



>> Charlotte Harper:
Everyone welcome. Thank you so much for coming. We really appreciate
you coming out. Who knew it was going to rain? I didn't. But you all did,
because you all have umbrellas. Anyway, thank you for coming. I'm Charlotte Harper. I'm the director of
programming here at Hill Center. For how many of you is this
your first time at Hill Center? That's great. We love having events that bring
in new people, and it seems like this series, Life of
a Poet, with Ron Charles, is one of those series. We are so happy to have Ron and
the Library of Congress partner with us on this series. We could not, obviously,
do this without them. We are thrilled, and
we are thrilled today to welcome Ross Gay and can't
wait to hear about his work. And by the way, his work
is being sold out here on the right-hand side
by East City Bookshop, a nice local bookshop,
women owned and operated. Yes. But right now, ID like
to turn it over to Rob Casper, the head of the Poetry
and Literature Center at Library of Congress. So, give it up. [ Applause ] >> Rob Casper: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming out. I'm curious how many
people came last week too? Wow, check you out. This weather is marginally
better than– yeah, me too. Marginally better than last
week, but we hope you continue to come to the series
as we do rain or shine. All right. I want to thank Charlotte and
everyone here at the Hill Center for making this series possible. It's wonderful to be back
here in this great room with all of you tonight. I also want to thank
The Washington Post and my personal hero,
Ron Charles. You know, two of these
conversations is a lot to take on in one week, but– >> Ron Charles: I
was happy to do it. >> Rob Casper: And we're happy to have you here,
making it possible. Before I say anything more, I just want to tell you a
little bit about the poetry and literature center at
the Library of Congress. We are home to the Poet
Laureate Consultant in Poetry and in fact our poet
laureate, Tracy K. Smith, will be giving her closing event
on April 15, April 15, yeah. So you should come check
her out down the street at the Jefferson building. We also host a range
of programs. We'll have all sorts of programs
between now and April 15 over at the Library's
Capitol Hill campus. If you want to find out
more about the Library, you should visit our
website, www.loc.gov/poetry. And we would really also
love to know what you think about tonight's program. On your seats, there
should be some surveys. If you could fill them
out, you can leave them on the chairs afterwards. You can hand them to me. We want to make sure
to get them and find out what we can do
better going forward. Though with Ron there's
not much we can do. >> Ron Charles: I filled
most of them out already. >> Rob Casper: He said why does
that introducer go on so long. So, [inaudible] kicked off
our spring series last week. We're thrilled to have Ross Gay
here to end it a week later. If only winter was as short. Ross Gay is the author of
three books, Against Which, Bringing the Shovel Down, and
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015, National
Book Critic Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley
Tuft's Award. Indeed. He is also
the founding editor of the online sports
magazine, Some Call it Ballin', and an editor of the
Chapbook Press's Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. He is as well a founding
board member of the Bloomington Community
orchard, a nonprofit, free-fruit-for-all food
justice and joy project, which is a great description. He has received fellowships
from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer's
Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He is currently a professor
of English and director of the Creative Writing
Program at Indiana University in Bloomington where he lives. Of all the poets we have
featured in this series, Ross Gay has arguably
been the most anticipated. This is partly due to the fact
that our dear Ron Charles served on the committee that awarded
Gay his National Book Critic Circle award for Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
just a few years ago. The Washington Post,
and not Ron, but Elizabeth Blunt called
Catalog, "A charming collection that gives readers
permission to feel joyful. Losses, small slights, and
large issues such as prejudice and violence also appear,
yet the speaker always tries to translate everything back into the original
language of possibility." Ron had the opportunity
to meet our future poet at the prize ceremony in
New York and hear him read, and I believe he's been
smitten ever since. I too have been struck by Ross
Gay's poems, which NPR says, "burst forth in leggy,
unexpected ways, zooming in on legs
furred with pollen or soiled breasts
stroking into the xylem." [laughter] Tess Taylor
had a lot more fun than [inaudible]
that description. >> Ron Charles: I
didn't edit that. >> Rob Casper: Though
Ross and I have never met, and I've never heard him read, I'll never forget the
day I read Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
cover to cover. I was staying with
friends down in Austin, and I woke up one morning
to glorious sunlight pouring through the blinds of
my friend's office. In the course of getting up, my eye caught Gay's
third collection with its stunning cover art by Arista Alanis sitting
atop a pile of books. It's right here. I thought to myself, this has
been getting a lot of play, and picked it up with the
intent to simply leaf through and then head to the
kitchen for breakfast. Well let me tell you, I did not
leave that room until I'd gone from To the Fig Tree on
Ninth and Christian straight through to Last Will
and Testament, and I was good and
full of poetry. The same could be
said of what we're about to experience right now, and I'll bet you too won't ever
forget the magic of this moment. Please join me in welcoming
Ron Charles with Ross Gay. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: I am
delighted you're here. >> Ross Gay: Thank
you, same here. And we get him first, you know. His new book comes out next
Tuesday, and here is the Book of Delights, and
it is delightful. It's not poetry. It's a selection of brief
essays that he said he wrote because the more
you study delights, the more delight
there is to study. My delight grows
when I share it. You will want to
get this, read it, and feel the delight
and the joy. In the middle of this piece,
I'm reading along, you know, enjoying them all, and at number
64, it's about poetry readings. So I got to read, I got
to read from this again, but I did want him to read
a bit of this first essay to start us off, if you would. >> Ross Gay: Totally. It's called, this title
was so hard to get right. We really tried on this. It's called, number 64, fishing
an eyelash, two or three cents on the virtues of
the poetry readings. It might be a kind of
self-aggrandizement to say so, but I love poetry readings. I love going to them. I think I love them, I probably
love them most often more than I love poetry books. I'm pretty sure this is true. The reason is simple. Because during a poetry reading, you're watching someone
communicate with their body, which is at it communicates
in the process of fading away. It will, perhaps one day
soon, be dead I mean. It sounds necrophilic, I
know, but it's not exactly. Because the fact of the dying,
which too you and I will do, and which books will not, reminds us that the performing
body, the reading body, the living body, the body
fiddling with the reading lamp on the podium or playing
with the hem of her dress or keeping beat on
the microphone like Whitney Houston used
to, looking in the corners of the room, the occasional
sparkling line of spit between his lips, the armpit
of their T-shirt damp, pointing to the giraffe in their
poem, all of it is illustrious. >> Ron Charles: Nice. [ Applause ] There's a charming disruptive
self-consciousness in some of your poems when you
suddenly speak directly to us about the very act
of writing poems, if you know what
I'm talking about. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Yeah, yeah. In one poem you speak of burning
the world down to rebuild it, and then you stop and
admit, well that sounds like a bullshit poem
in the making. [laughter] >> Ross Gay: That's right, yeah. >> Ron Charles: And then,
in a poem called Come On, you describe your mother's
hands as the claws of a crab, and then you stop and say,
that's one of those poetry lies. What are the hallmarks
of a bullshit poem, and what are poetry lies? >> Ross Gay: That's
a good question. You know, maybe a great
story that I will tell is that my friend Evie was
talking about this poem where I say something
like that in the New Book, a poem called Fee, and I said
something about, you know, I love it when a poem says
I'm trying to do this, or I'm trying to do that. Sometimes it's a
horseshit trick. But sometimes, and I sort of,
I think the poem needs to say, but sometimes like what
I'm doing, it's not. And Evie was like, sometimes I
think that's a horseshit trick. So, anyway, what
was your question? >> Ron Charles: So what are, what all right the
hallmarks of a bullshit poem? >> Ross Gay: Oh, yeah. God, I don't know. But I know in myself, like there
are moments where I'm trying to sort of just do, do
a poemy thing, you know. >> Ron Charles: A poemy thing? >> Ross Gay: Yeah, I'm trying to
do a poemy thing, and it's like, you know, sometimes it's a
real, honest attempt to get at some sort of genuine
feeling or something like that, and sometimes I'm
imitating the idea of what a poem feels
like somewhere. I think something like that. >> Ron Charles: You're
acting like a poet. >> Ross Gay: Yeah,
yeah, yeah, totally. Like and I catch myself
periodically, like in that one where I'm, whatever I said
about my mom, and I'm like, eh, that's bullshit, you know. So, and I think it's kind
of fun to like leave it in there sometimes
too and be like– >> Ron Charles: Yes. So we see the poem in the
process of becoming itself. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: It's great fun. You teach poetry? >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: You must
see a lot of bullshit poems. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. [laughter] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean no more from my students
than from myself though, to be perfectly honest. >> Ron Charles: I want
you to read a poem called To the Mistake, in
your new collection. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Which is called
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. To the Mistake. >> Ross Gay: To the Mistake. It is good to know a
thing or two about that of which you speak,
or even to be expert, which is not requisite though. A thing or two is good, like
the prop plane I know is going to land on the canvas roof
of my friend's rickety jeep, while the salutatorian to be
sits in the back seat giddy with her new graphing
calculator. And the driver says something
I think about Arsenio Hall, and he sounds like a bunny. So, I don't know how
to do this poem really. >> Ron Charles: What
are you doing? [laughter] You can just read the
poem, then we can talk about it. >> Ross Gay: I know, I know. If it's better to
tell you before. So the story is that
I made the error of like taking acid
right before this reunion for the gifted class. >> Ron Charles: You'll
get to that in the poem. >> Ross Gay: I know,
I know, I know. But I don't, I don't
want you to miss it. All right. You know the poem then. Just joking, just joking. So, while the salutatorian to
be sits in the back seat giddy with her new graphing
calculator, and the driver says something,
I think, about Arsenio Hall, and he sounds like a bunny in
an echo chamber, but it's hard to hear with those
propellers roaring above. And today, I am lecturing on
the miracle of the mistake in a poem, that hiccup or
weird gift that spirals or jettisons what's dull
and landlocked into as yet untraversed, i.e.,
cosmic, I overuse this metaphor with my students, grounds. I tell this to 105 give or take
undergrads who mostly don't care and wrestle second to second
the by now blood-borne drive to check their beckoning
phones, which mostly, bless them, they don't. The mistake, I say, is a gift. Don't be afraid. See what it teaches you
about what the poem can be. I know of what I speak. Like the two tabs of very
potent, evidently acid I drop, four hours before this reunion
and graduation party of sorts for we, the gifted and talented,
corn chips and Mr. Pibb and store-bought cookies, the texture of which sunk
me knee deep in a dessert. I imagine I looked something
like an opaque cloud that day when Mr. and Mrs.
Simonoski, our brainy hosts and teachers guffawed
acclamation, the tremendous bead of spit balancing on Mr.
Simonoski's lip before a gust of air lifted it, and it
drifted to the coarse fabric of his beard, all the
spiny hairs of which seemed to screech like crickets. And no wonder I declined
the invitation from the volleyball court,
although I was a phys ed major. And beneath the white arcs,
the ball painted in the sky, my classmates, Lisa
and Eugene and Ick and Becky all looked a bit alien
with craniums engorged slightly and spines compressed
if not even serpentine, their limbs flailing about
wildly like cuttlefish, speaking only in poly-slavics which must have made my breathy
grunts all the more apish. Who knows where the
poem will lead you. I tell them to let go
their reigns and listen to the tongues half-wit
brilliance, the corner of the mind made
light by some accidental yoking of two impossibly joined
things, one or two in the rear. I notice their eyes roll into
the backs of their heads. And my plastic cup of root beer by now is spilling a bit
while Mr. Simonoski laughs like a hyena, plunging
its face in a ruptured gut and nothing has ever been
as clear to me as the bell that rang in my head that day. We were a 12-year experiment. The garden variety brainiacs
from a suburban school, passable genetic mixture,
forgettable location, Mr. Sim's oddly large eyes and his long reptilian tail now
making sense in the way someone with an electric can
opener voice seemed always to be inside him, speaking
when he spoke, now making sense as the night winds
down and the last of the cake is served writhing with some fluorescent
scrawl only I seem able to read while all the
good-natured kids whose fingernails are chewed raw and
jaws pulse who are so good, so very good, and soon will be
hauled into the bottomless sky under which I stumble to see what direction they're
coming from, and can I run. >> Wow. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: That is one of the most fun poems
about writing a poem. >> Ross Gay: Oh, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: The miracle
of the mistake in a poem, that hiccup or weird
gift that spirals or jettisons what's
dull and land locked. The mistake, I say, is a gift. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: What
do you mean by that? >> Ross Gay: Here I would like to reference Patrick
Rosow's [phonetic] essay, The Art of the Mistake. And, you know, really it feels
to me like, so I'm going to talk about teaching, so much
of my teaching and so much of my writing life, like
when I'm discovering things, I feel like so often
I'm doing something that really feels accidental. It feels like I bump
into something, you know. So, the accident or the
mistake is the thing that I never would have
done, for whatever reason. I don't know how it gets there. Whatever, for whatever
reason something happens, and it is more true or
more like, you know, something is revealed in a
way that I could not have sort of willed myself to do. Something like that. >> Ron Charles: And
you want your students to become self-conscious
of that process? >> Ross Gay: I want to
sort of train all of us to, I mean when I'm talking to the
Intro to Creative Writing Class, which is, you know,
I just would be glad if they came every once
in a while, you know. >> Ron Charles: Right. >> Ross Gay: But like when I'm
thinking about my, you know, further along students, I
am thinking about how is it that we can allow ourselves
or set up the conditions for ourselves to write things that we otherwise
could not have explored so that our knowledge itself
is not the sort of determining or predetermining sort of limit
of what we can make, you know. So we know something, but
then there's this other kind of knowing. And my hope as a teacher
and as a whatever, someone who makes stuff, is
that I'm able to sort of figure out how to bump into those other
kinds of knowing, you know? >> Ron Charles: Yes, yeah. >> Ross Gay: Okay. >> Ron Charles: You describe
the poetry-making process in a variety of ways. In one poem called The Opening, there's this gorgeous
description of you pruning a peach tree. And you describe pruning away,
pruning away, pruning away, until you say the
air and the light and even a bird can
flow through it. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: It seems
to me you're talking about, among other things,
editing a poem. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. That's totally right. That's all right, hey. >> Ron Charles: Not
at all, not at all. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: In The Spoon,
you write, I swear when I got into this poem I would convert
this sorrow into some kind of honey with a little music
that I can sometimes make with these scribbled
artifacts of our desolation. Tell us about that. Converting sorrow into honey. >> Ross Gay: That poem is so
like trying hard to make sense of something that
doesn't make sense. >> Ron Charles: It
says that in the poem. >> Ross Gay: Yeah,
exactly, and– >> Ron Charles: But I think many of your poems are making
honey out of sorrow. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's right. I think that was a poem
where I realized it more sort of profoundly than maybe
in some other poems. And yeah, it occurred to
me that often that the act of writing a poem, for me is
to make sense of something that doesn't make sense, or
maybe, I don't know, yeah, something like that, and
it arrived in that poem, that sort of thing of like,
oh, this is kind of what we do. This is kind of what we do,
like try to organize or order or make beautiful what
doesn't make sense, you know. >> Ron Charles: The honey sounds
sweet, risk being saccharine, your poem is taking
on some really, really tough, horrible issues. They are not sweet
poems, generally. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: The
scribbled artifacts of our desolation are really
clear in some of these poems. Would you read a poem called For
a Young Emergency Room Doctor? >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Take
the tab out. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. For a Young Emergency
Room Doctor. Although this prayer should
first dress the dead boy's wounds, nine gunshots, in
and out, the spine pierced and wrecked enough to twist
the head dangled backward, and before the body, the night
through which the bullet chewed, and the latex sheathing the
hands of the cops who dragged and dropped the boy
on the gurney, last touch of this world
gloved, and the heart's dirge, dwindling lament for
spilled blood, lost love too, for the blankets of
light wrapping him, jeweling the viscous
liquid slicking his lips. It's for the living, for those who close the boy's
eyes again and again. For whom salve is the
wound's mend, the eased bleed, who tell the story while eating, who too die at the
dying's rising pile. >> Ron Charles: Is this written
from some personal experience? >> Ross Gay: Yeah, this
is my best, you know, one of my best friend's is
an ER doctor, and we were in, I was getting my PhD in English
while he was in med school. So we were living
together, and I was sort of with him while
he was in training. So, you know, he was
encountering all kinds of, you know, [inaudible]. >> Ron Charles: It's incredibly
common for ER doctors. >> Ross Gay: Yeah,
yeah, totally. >> Ron Charles: What
city was this in? >> Ross Gay: Philly. >> Ron Charles: Yeah. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. I haven't read that
poem in a long time. >> Ron Charles: Here's
another poem called the Bullet in Its Hunger. It's number four. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. The Bullet in Its Hunger. The bullet in its hunger
craves the womb of the body, the warmth from there. Begs always release from
the chilly dumb chamber. Look at this one who's glee
at escape was out shown only by the heavens above him. The night's even-keeled breath,
all things thus far dreams from his cramped bunker. But now, the world. Let me be a ravenous
diamond in it, he thinks, chewing through the
milky jaw bone of this handsome 17-year-old. Of course, he would have loved to nestle amidst the brain's
scintillant catacombs, which only for the boy's
dumb luck slipped away, but this will do. The bullet does not, as
the boy goes into shock, or as his best friend
stutters, palming fluid wound, want to know the nature of
the conflict, nor the sound of the shooter's
mother in prayer, nor the shot child's
future harmonies, the tracheostomy's
muffled wheeze, threaded thru the
pencil's whisper as the boy scrawls unscarred. No. The bullet, like you, simply
craves the warmth of the body. Like you, only wants to
die in someone's arms. >> Ron Charles: That's an
incredibly unnerving poem. And paired with the other
one, there's nothing as sweet or honey, nothing
was transformed into honey in those poems. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: What
inspires poems about that kind of endemic American violence? >> Ross Gay: I guess trying to
figure out like some [inaudible] to think about what feels
like such a profound failure of the imagination, you know. It just feels, you know,
some way of talking about how this is, how this is
even possible among, you know, like people who ostensively care for each other or
can, you know– >> Ron Charles: Like why
it would become normal to lose 85 people a
day to gun violence. >> Ross Gay: Exactly. It's just a thing. It's just what it is. It's, you know, it's, and you
know, of course, you talk to, you know, it's fucking crazy. >> Ron Charles: Yeah. >> Ross Gay: It's fucking crazy. And I guess in a way the poem
is just trying to be like, you know, I don't even know,
like trying to just further sort of contend with the craziness. >> Ron Charles: Well, it
upsets our apathy, I think. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: It's so creepy
and unnerving that it forces us to content with this violence in a completely different
and unsettling way. >> Ross Gay: Right,
right, right. >> Ron Charles: A
lot of the violence in your poems is
linked to racism. In The Book of Delights, the
essay collection that'll come out Tuesday, you write, I'm trying to remember the
last day I have been reminded of the inconceivable violence
black people have endured in this country. Innocence is an impossible state
for black people in America who are by virtue of this
country's fundamental beliefs always presumed guilty. And if you'd read
this poem, Postcard. >> Ross Gay: Postcard. Lynching of an unidentified
man, circa 1920. I don't want to read it. I can't. >> Ron Charles: Yeah. >> Ross Gay: Thank you. >> Ron Charles: Okay. >> Yeah. Yeah. >> Ron Charles: How about Pulled Over on the Short
Hills of New Jersey? >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. I can read that. >> Ron Charles: There
was a display at the show at the portrait gallery. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Just went down. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Do you remember
the name of the photographer? She took photos of lynchings
and through some magic took out the bodies, and
so all we're left with are these grinning white
people looking at the cameras. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Absolutely
unspeakably horrible. >> Ross Gay: Yeah,
yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Pulled Over In
Short Hills of New Jersey at 8 a.m. 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, three, four, five 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. >> Ron Charles: I have had
you read these brutal poems. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Because we're
about to talk about gratitude, and I want your audience to
know that you have contended with the most horrible
aspects of life and still somehow
persist in joy. And it's the most
remarkable thing about you. In some of your poems, we can
see you moving back and forth between the light and horror in really surprising
unsettling ways. Grief to joy. It's a signature maneuver
in some of your poems. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Would
you read Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt? >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Seven. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. I had such a nice
time last night. I was reading at Villanova,
and a couple of these, a couple students had read the
book, and they were talking about this poem and they were,
when they were talking to me, they were sort of like
buttoning and unbuttoning. [laughter] It was great. Ode to Buttoning and
Unbuttoning my Shirt. No one knew or at least I
didn't know they knew– no. No one knew or at least I didn't
know they knew what the thin disks threaded here on my shirt
might give me in terms of joy. This is not something
to be taken lightly. The gift of buttoning one's
shirt, slowly top to bottom, or bottom to top or
sometimes the buttons will be on the other side, and I
am a woman that morning, slipping the glass
through its slot. I tread differently that
day, or some of it anyway. My conversations are different. And the car bombs slicing
the air and the people in it for a quarter mile and the
honey bee's legs furred with pollen mean another thing
to me than on the other days, which too have been drizzled
in this simplest of joys, in this world of spaceships and
subatomic this and that, two, maybe three times
a day some days, I have the distinct pleasure of
slowly untethering the one side from the other, which is
like unbuckling a stack of vertebrae with delicacy. For I must only use
the tips of my fingers, with which I will one day
close my mother's eyes. This is as delicate as
we can be in this life, practicing like this,
giving the raft of our hands to the clumsy spider
and blowing soft until she lifts her damp
heft and crawls off. We practice like this, pushing
seed into the earth like this, first in the morning,
then at night, we practice sliding
the bones home. >> Wow. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: So lovely, and
you hear that movement back and forth, and it's
surprising each time, right. It starts so light, funny. This is not to be taken
lightly, the pleasure of buttoning my shirt. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Yeah. And then, the car bomb
suddenly slices the air. And those delicate fingers with the buttons are
suddenly closing– It's surprising,
again and again. Would you read a
poem called Feet? >> Ross Gay: Oh, yeah. >> Ron Charles: This also
feels so light and funny. It's not just me. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. Feet. The things that
you might need to know is that the Real World was a, maybe
it is a show still on a MTV? >> Ron Charles: This
looks like an MTV crowd. [laughter] >> They canceled it. >> Ross Gay: Oh, they
cancel, okay thank you. >> Ron Charles: Thank
you, young person. [laughter] >> Ross Gay: Thank you. Yeah. And the other one
is Powerman and Iron Fist. So that's a comic book. Luke Cage is Powerman. Powerman and Iron Fist, that was
what I read when I was a kid. Feet. Friends, mine
are ugly feet. The body's common wreckage
stuffed into boots. The second toe on the left
foot is crooked enough that when a child asks what's
that of it, I can without flinch or fear of doubt lie
that a cow stepped on it, which maybe makes them fear
cows, for which I repent. In love as I am with those
philosophical beasts, who would never smash
my feet nor sneer at them the way my mother does. We always bought you good
shoes, honey, she says. You can't blame us
for those things. And for this, and other– my mom has been in a crowd
like when I've read that poem, and she loses her
mind at that line. She like falls out
of her seat laughing. And for this and other
reasons, I have never indulged in the pleasure of flip flops,
shy or ashamed, digging my toes like ten tiny ostriches into the
sand at the beach with friends, who I'm not sure love me. Though I don't think
Tina loved me. She liked me I think,
but said to me, as we sat on lawn chairs beside
a pool where I lifeguarded and was meticulous at
obscuring from view with a book or towel my screwy friends,
you have pretty feet. In that gaudy, cement
mixer, Levittown accent that sends all the lemurs
scaling my rib cage to see, and she actually
had pretty feet. So I took this as a
kindness, incomparable and probably fell a
little bit in love with her for that afternoon, with the
weird white streak in her hair and her machine gun chatter
and her gums snapping, and so I slid my feet
from beneath my Powerman and Iron Fist comic book into
the sun for which they acted like plants, open their tiny
mouths to the food hurtling to them through the
solar system. And like plants, you could
watch them almost smile, almost say thank you. You could watch them turn
colors and be almost emboldened, none of which Tina saw,
because she was probably digging in her purse, or talking about
that hotty on the Real World or yelling at some friend's
little sister to put her ass in her trunks or pouring
the crumbs of her Fritos into her thrown open mouth, but do you really think I'm
talking to you about my feet? Of course she's dead. Tina was her name, of
leukemia, so I heard. Why else would I try
sadly to make music of her unremarkable kindness? I'm trying, I think,
to forgive myself for something, I
don't know what. But what I do know is
that I love the moment when the poet says
I'm trying to do this or I'm trying to do that. Sometimes it's a horseshit
trick, but sometimes it's a way by which the poet says I
wish I could tell you truly of the little factory in my
head, the smokestacks chuffing, the dandelions and
purslane and willows of sweet clover prying
through the blacktop. I wish I could tell you how
inside is the steady mumble and clank of machines, but
mostly, I wish I could tell you of the footsteps I hear,
more than I can ever count, all of whose gaits I can
discern by listening closely, which promptly disappear after
being lodged again, here, where we started, in the factory where loss makes all
things beautiful grow. [ Inaudible Comment ] [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: Of
course she's dead. How could you do that? Well I want you to answer that. How could you do that? >> Ross Gay: Do that? What's the that? >> Ron Charles: Of
course she's dead. >> Ross Gay: Oh. >> Ron Charles: Catch
us up like that. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Set
us up like that. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: To be
devastated like that. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. I think I'm talking to myself. Yeah. I'm talking to
myself at that moment, like sort of realizing that, the way that memory,
I think, I think. The way that memory gets
sort of conjured out of that, that sense of like, oh, that,
that person's not here anymore. Yeah, the sort of
unremarkable kindness becomes really remarkable. >> Ron Charles: Sanctified. >> Ross Gay: Sanctified,
yeah, totally, totally. >> Ron Charles: In the poem. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. And I think it's probably, I'm
realizing that in the course of writing it, like
trying to, yeah, yeah. Something like that. >> Ron Charles: That
little factory in your head, the factory where loss makes
all things beautiful grow. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: That's
the poetic function. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. Yeah. Now I don't think only
loss makes beautiful things grow, but I think probably the
fact of loss is always there with the beautiful
things that are growing. You know, I think it's probably
actually the truth, you know. Even the most abundant
and ebullient sort of exaltative poem has loss
around it, touching it. >> Ron Charles: It's
honest, if it's honest. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, if it's
honest, yeah totally, yeah. >> Ron Charles: We're
all going to stand up, turn around, and sit back down. >> Ross Gay: Do you
do this all the time? That's great. >> Ron Charles: Some
of them expect it. Others are shocked. >> Ross Gay: That's great. >> Ron Charles: It's not an
intermission, you can't leave. I mean you could leave. >> [Inaudible] no wine. >> Ron Charles: No. Okay, sit back down. >> Ross Gay: I love that. >> Ron Charles: I
learned this from my wife, a high school teacher. >> Ross Gay: You have? >> Ron Charles: She said,
people can't sit that long. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: You
can't concentrate. >> Ross Gay: I'll take breaks
before I read the long poem in there sometimes, but– >> Ron Charles: Yeah
[inaudible]. [ Background Noise ] We're halfway. [laughter] You've got a poem
called Heaven, which is full of some really stark
juxtapositions. >> Ross Gay: God yeah. >> Ron Charles: Remember
this poem? >> Ross Gay: Oh, yeah. The Heaven. Huh. The Heaven. This is the heaven. Pig shit, tulips, a filthy
child whose eyes are wide enough to bleed, and his four
siblings, each hungry as him. Maybe, probably one will
die from some disease that twists the air
from his lungs. It will hurt. The heaven is pain inside and
out, and love thick as ore. The heaven takes
and takes, smirks. It is the weight sinking
a burlap sack of kittens. The light warming. The silent wake. The mother. A backyard thick with bones. Plunge of thumb in the soil. Blood and teeth. Song like shrapnel. The heaven is this and more. Sun glancing off the gunwales'
backs and the vulture's weight. The creases in a man's face
when he enters into prayer. The way his words turn
into a shroud of light. A conversation between a man and an idea I can almost
see, I can almost believe. I haven't read that
poem in years. >> Ron Charles: It's beautiful
and difficult in many ways. Emotionally difficult,
theologically challenging. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Heaven
is the light of the wake. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Can you read it again? >> Ross Gay: Yeah. This is the heaven. Pig shit, tulips, a filthy
child whose eyes are wide enough to bleed, and his four
siblings, each hungry as him. Maybe, probably one will
die from some disease that twists the air
from his lungs. It will hurt. The heaven is pain inside and
out and love thick as ore. The heaven takes
and takes, smirks, is the weight sinking a
burlap sack of kittens. The light warming
the silent wake. The mother. A backyard thick with bones. Plunge of thumb in the soil. Blood and teeth. Song like shrapnel. The heaven is this and more. Sun glancing off the gunwales'
backs and the vultures' weight. The creases in a man's face
when he enters into prayer. The way his words turn
into a shroud of light. A conversation between a man
and an idea, I can almost see. I can almost believe. Hum. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: It's a
poem reaching for a sort of complexity and
an encapsulation of different things that
you can't really contain. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Like, you know, it's
sort of, I'm trying to think like what I was thinking
about or, but it's clear that in some way the poem
wants to be like, you know, the whole thing is the
heaven, that's the, there's a theological sort
of, it's like the whole thing. >> Ron Charles: Right. >> Ross Gay: But that turn at
the end, like that conversation between a man and
idea, I can almost see. Yeah, it's interesting to me. Yeah, I haven't read, I haven't
looked at that poem for years. It's amazing. >> Ron Charles: So many of your
poems are about the persistence of life, what you call the
florid burden of living. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Rob Casper: The
florid burden of living. Could you read a
poem called Man Tries to Commit Suicide
with a Crossbow. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. Yeah, like looking at this
poem it's, I mean it's– >> Ron Charles: Wow. >> Ross Gay: It's this– >> Ron Charles: Listen to this. >> Ross Gay: Oh yeah. >> Ron Charles: It's
so gruesome. The man doesn't die, I'll
just ruin it for you now, which is almost worse. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, man
tries to committee suicide with a crossbow for Thomas Lux. And that's the first line. Man tries to commit suicide
with a crossbow and fails. First, imagine the weapon
pointing heavenward beneath his chin. After the trigger's quick
tick, the following. What for said undead
must have sounded like a rocket's stratospheric
crash, which is to say the arrow
just crested the crown, i.e., it got stuck. At which point the
head, now a kabob, said undead had the wherewithal
to unscrew the skewer from the little lodged
missile and pull it out, to walk to the emergency room. I love to think grace
takes strange shapes. The arrow bond to
the howl of neurons. To think of that walk
beneath the velvet night. Stay with me. Don't think headache. Think instead the star's
ancient light warming his just budding horn. [ Applause ] Crazy. That's actually
one of the stories that my buddy came home with. You know, I don't
think he had treated that person, but
I think it was– >> Ron Charles: Heard about it. >> Ross Gay: He had
heard about it. You know, it's so, it's
interesting to me to look at that poem and then say
to look at that heaven poem and to look at, you know,
so many of the poems that my obsessions have
not changed, you know. It's like damn, that's the
same poem, different syntax. >> Ron Charles: Yes. >> Ross Gay: You know. >> Ron Charles: It's
so gory it's funny. I mean it's hard not to laugh
even though we're horrified. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, sure, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: And
then the line about grace taking strange
shapes and the light of heaven shining
on his budding horn. I mean it really does force us
to imagine grace amidst horror. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, I
mean I think it wants to be like, I hope he's okay. >> Ron Charles: Yes. >> Ross Gay: You know,
here's his whole thing. Like that's, that's
like really trying. I hope he's okay, you know. >> Ron Charles: Yes. >> Ross Gay: Pain. I haven't read that
in a long time either. >> Ron Charles: I
love that poem. Do any of you know
Thomas Lux's poems? Uh-huh, yeah. He died recently. And I'm sort of, he was really
my teacher, one of my teachers, and I hear him in that. So he just came in the room. >> Ron Charles: Outside the
Wake of a Friend's Father. It's another poem where the
feelings and the themes are not at war with one another
but definitely in conflict. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, they're
at, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, in one of these
delights, I say something about, because I have a mind of
death, da da da da da, and like all these
poems it's like, yeah. I wasn't lying. >> Ron Charles: If you
just had a mind of death– >> Ross Gay: I know, I know. That'd be a bummer. >> Ron Charles: Yeah. [laughter] >> Ross Gay: That'd
be a bullshit poem. >> Ron Charles: Yeah. >> Ross Gay: Outside the
Wake of a Friend's Father. Although I know I
should be trying hard to palpate this common
sorry, to unspool sympathy for the bereaved, stumbling
and sobbing inside those doors, my tongue sits like
a stone in my mouth, and the truth's matter is, I am right now contemplating the
mysteries of light on an ankle. That one, in particular, which beneath this sun
favors the Earth's lush shape from the an airplane. And it might be the dogwood
abloom, like a gaggle of screaming angels makes me
dumb or the wrenched gut slight of hand, but that ankle has put
death to bed and has me dreaming of the lucky saint whose tongue
transcribes channeled [phonetic] fragments throughout the
minute ravines there. And I know I should stop, except
I hear my own father's dust at this moment whispering
in a breeze. No, no, go on. So let me sing the largest
praise upon the subtlest juncture of flesh and bone,
bony bud, the pillow upon which scripture was dreamt
and writ, mother of the muses in their gowns flowing
just above their ankles, and the sun's hot mouth
breathing on me in dress pants, afraid to enter the parlor
for my own wound lying in that casket, rubs
also its lips along that miniscule mountain
of motility. Crossroads of the foot's baroque
architecture and the girder of the shin, delicate crux
calling at once birdsong and the melodious
stirring of worms, ecstatic axis whose
dragonfly-like skinning of this New Jersey asphalt
parking lot sucks gasps and moans from all of
Trinidad's tarpits. Ankle, ankle, for which I would
give my good hand to listen to its trillion vascular
secrets, which include heartbreak's
4268 glistening names. Silk, stamen, inseam,
moonlight, diamond, father, smoke, mirage, ankle. Don't ask, just close your eyes,
get on your knees and pray. Hum. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: It's an erotic
version of Mary Tyler Moore at the, at the clown's
funeral, remember that? [laughter] >> Ross Gay: No. No, what was that? >> Ron Charles: You
know, Chuckles the Clown, when she goes to the funeral? >> Ross Gay: No. [laughter] >> [Inaudible] put
that on YouTube later. >> Ross Gay: Okay, Okay. Will do. >> Ron Charles: You know, she's
supposed to be very reverent, but she can't stop
laughing during a funeral. You're obviously
supposed to be grieving, and you can't stop
observing this presumed young woman's ankle. Yeah. The persistence
of life amidst grief, lust amidst sorrow. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Lovely
and funny. >> Ross Gay: Yeah,
totally, totally, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Like the, you know, it's a body. That's like sort of admiring
like being alive or like sort of being alive, which
includes, you know, the dead, the dead in the other room. >> Ron Charles: The arrival
of your father's voice– >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Is
sad and funny. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, I know. >> Charlotte Harper: It's
like, no, no, go on, go on. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, keep going. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Now
you say something. [laughter] >> Ross Gay: It is funny. No, yeah, I think
it's interesting. I mean it's like I can remember
the experience from the poem, that the poem sort
of came out of it. It was around the time of,
it was, you know, all these, so many of these poems are
poems of mourning for my father. It's just like these different
ways of sort trying to sort of contend with this absence and
this sorry and this, you know, illness that had led
up to it and all this. And that's one of them. I mean one of the thing that
I sort of was getting a kick out of reading the poem is
how much it's in the mouth. It's so like chewy, you know. Like all those words, and
it kind of makes me glad to remember, again Tom Lux and
other people, how much a kind of like leaning on
language is going on. And it's just like the erotic,
it's the erotics of the music in the mouth, you know,
is sort of happening. So that even saying it,
it's like your mouth has to do all these sorts
of, you know, things. >> Ron Charles: Right. It pushes back against death
even in memorializing it. >> Ross Gay: Totally, yeah. It's like music. You know, you dance. That's it. You know. >> Ron Charles: In one
poem you say dance is one of the things you
happen to do pretty well. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. [laughter] >> Ron Charles: Yeah. >> Ross Gay: I love that,
even though I don't know it, I love that Mary
Tyler Moore reference. [laughter] That was
totally curveball. That's great. >> Ron Charles: The
poem called Overheard. >> Ross Gay: Um, yeah. Overheard. It's a beautiful day the
small man said from behind me, and I could tell he had a slight
limp from the rasp of his boot against the sidewalk, and
I was slow to look at him, because I've learned to close
my ears against the voices of passersby, which is easier than closing them
to my own mind. And although he said
it, I did not hear it until he said it a second
or third time, but he did. He said, it's a beautiful day. And something in the way he
pointed to the sun unfolding between two oaks
overhanging a basketball court on Tenth Street made me too
catch hold of that light, opening my hands to the
dream of the soon blooming, and never did he
say forget the crick in your neck nor
your bloody dreams. He did not say forget
the multiple shades of your mother's heartbreak
nor the father in your city, kneeling over his bloody child. Nor the five species of bird
this second become memory. No, he said only it's a
beautiful day, this tiny man, limping past me with
upturned palms, shaking his head in disbelief. [ Inaudible Comment ] [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: That old man– >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: In
that one phrase, in that act of recognizing
the beauty of the day does everything
your palms do. >> Ross Gay: Yeah,
that's it, that's it. I was just thinking like,
oh, that's an ethics. And I think probably, you
know, like that's one of the, one of the teachers of,
for me, of an ethics that I aspire to, I think, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Not
Pollyannaish, not ignoring anything,
not denying anything bad, recognizes all the bad things. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: It can also
still be a beautiful day. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. Totally. >> Ron Charles: You're
totally into gardening. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, big time. Yeah. >> Ron Charles: And
it's an adult passion. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, I
learned, I started gardening, I mean like really gardening
in a garden where I live in the last 11 years, yeah. >> Ron Charles: It is
or you have made it into a perfect metaphor
for your work. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Everything dies. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: And new life
springs up from those things. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: And
pushed dead-looking things into the ground, and
life comes out of it. >> Ross Gay: Yeah,
yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: It's a miracle that your poems again
and again reenact. >> Ross Gay: Right, right, yeah. And the garden is like this
bounty, like this bounty, like this bounty of sort of,
you know, like it's so full of wonder and incomprehensible
like happenings, you know. >> Ron Charles: Yes. >> Ross Gay: Like there's so
much going on in a garden, which is part of why
I remain fascinated, and I think I'll probably never
not be fascinated by the garden because I will come
upon something, and I'll be like,
what are you doing? You know, what is happening? Like how is it that this many
pollinators are swirling around? Like I can't get my head
around it, you know. And that feels, that
feels wonderful. Like there is this cycle, this
utterly necessary cycle going on that I can witness and be like that's fucking
beautiful and– >> Ron Charles: Miraculous. >> Ross Gay: Yes, yes, yes. >> Ron Charles: You have
so many great references in your poems to bees. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Bumblebees. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Bees coming out
of flowers covered in pollen. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Confused
and drunk. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: You have a
gorgeous poem called burial about using your own father's,
using your own father's ashes as fertilizer for your plums. Could you read that for us? >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. Of course. >> Ron Charles: Mark 14. >> Ross Gay: Yep. So when I read this,
I need to ask if anyone has done
anything with placenta? [ Inaudible Comment ] What have you done with
a placenta, if I may? >> I buried it under a tree in
our back garden, a cherry tree that I love very much. >> Ross Gay: Okay, great. Yeah, yeah. So that's a thing. A beautiful thing. Burial. You're right,
you're right. The fertilizer is good. It wasn't a gang of dullard
came up with chucking a fish in the planting hole or
some midwife got lucky with the placenta. Oh, I'll plant a tree here. And a sudden flush of quince
and jam enough for months. Yes, the magic dust our bodies
become cast spells on the roots about which someone else could
tell you the chemical processes, but it's just magic to me, which
is why a couple springs ago when first put it in my
two bare root plum trees out back I took the jar which
has become my father's house and lonely for him and hoping
to coax him back for my mother as much as me, poured some
of him in the planting holes. And he dove in, glad
for the robust air, saddling a slight gust
into my nose and mouth, chuckling as I coughed. But mostly he disappeared into
the minor yawns in the earth, into which I placed the trees,
splaying wide their roots and casting the gray dust of my old man evenly
throughout the hole, replacing then the clods
of dense Indiana soil until the roots and my father
were buried, watering it all in with one hand while holding
the tree with the other straight as the flag to the
nation of simple joy, of which my father is now
a naturalized citizen. Waving the flag from
his subterranean lair. The roots curled around him
like shawls or jungle gyms, like hookahs or the arms of
ancestors before breast stroking into the xylem, riding the
elevator up through the cambium and into the leaves where when
you put you ear close enough you can hear him whisper. Good morning. Where if you close your eyes and push your face you can
feel his stubbly jowls, and good Lord, this
year he was giddy at the first real fruit set and
nestled into the 30 or 40 plums in the two trees, peering
out from the sweet meat with his hands pressed
against the purple skin, like cathedral glass. And imagine his joy as the sun
wizarded forth those abundant sugars, and I plodded
barefoot and prayerful at the first ripe plum swell
and blush, almost weepy, conjuring some surely
ponderous verse to convey this bottomless grace. You know, oh father, oh
father kind of stuff. Hundreds of hot air balloons
filling the sky in my chest. We're placing his
intubated body, listing like a boat
keel side up. Replacing the steady stream
of water from the one eye, which his brother wiped
before removing the tube. Keeping his hand on the
forehead until the last wind, and his body wandered off, while my brother
wailed like an animal. And my mother said,
weeping, it's okay. It's okay. You can go honey. At all of which my
father guffawed, by kicking from the first
buckets of juice down my chin, staining one of my two
button-down shirts, the salmon-colored silk one,
hollering, there's more of that. Almost dancing now,
the plum in the tree. The way he did as a person,
bent over and biting his lip and chucking the one hip
out and then the other with his elbows cocked and fists
loosely made and eyes closed and mouth made trumpet when he
knew he could make you happy, just by being a little
silly and sweet. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: That's
just perfect. That's not a poem you can write
in the grips of fresh grief. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, that's right,
that's right. >> Ron Charles: That's
grief resolved. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Transformed. >> Ross Gay: Transformed, yeah. Yeah, and the garden sort of modeled how we
might do that, for me. >> Ron Charles: It's
very lovely. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, thank you. >> Ron Charles: Very lovely. In the title poem of
your latest collection, Catalog of Unabashed
Gratitude, you write, 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. I want so badly to rub
the sponge of gratitude over every last thing. Why is gratitude so
important to you, or why has it become
so important to you? >> Ross Gay: You know, I've
been trying to think about that, like, I mean obviously it's
sort of this, as I'm reading all of these poems, it's this
think I'm sort of like arriving at over years of sort
of thinking and study. But I think, like thinking
about that heaven poem, it's like what am I working
out there, like working out like how do you sort
of deal with all of it, like sort of just sort
of be with all of it. And but then there's this,
this thing in that Catalog poem where I, I sort of, you know,
I want to practice this thing of acknowledgement, that one,
that we are not here long if we're, you know,
we're not here long. And so there is this
kind of preciousness that no matter what
it's fleeting, you know, and it's passing, and you are
passing, and I am passing, and that, I think we're
more likely, if we're sort of with that, we're more likely to love each other
actually, you know. And then I think of this, I've
been thinking about like what, I had this card, I mean I
do letter press printing, and I made these cards with
the word interdepend on them. And I gave, I gave one to a
friend, and she was like, yeah, that's, that can be hard
work, hard to do, you know. And I was like, right, and
sort of thinking about it, and I was thinking, like
among the sorrows or mistakes or failures of the
imagination again is to, is to not understand
or not believe that we are fundamentally
interdependent, you know. And when I say we, I mean the
grand we, meaning the water, you know, meaning the air,
meaning the trees, you know. Everything is interdependent,
and that is like, and I feel like, you
know, when you celebrate, and it just occurred to me like,
you know, maybe I'm slow coming to this, but when you celebrate
the winter equinox say, you're saying to the earth,
etc., if you're so gracious as to come back, Summer, that
would be awesome, you know. [laughter] Which is like
a real thing to say. Like if you are so gracious to
rain again or to stop raining or however it is, if you're
so gracious as to grow things. And it strikes me that
the more, the more I think about gratitude, the more I'm
thinking that like, you know, because there's like
gratitude about like, yeah, I got a nice pair of
shoes, I'm grateful, like that's, who
cares, you know. When I'm talking about
gratitude, I think, the more I sort of try to
put it together in my head, I'm talking about the
understanding of this like undeniable
interconnectedness and interdependence actually,
and I think that's thing that we are utterly
necessary to one another. And again, like the one
another is the big one another, and I feel like if you, if
you think of it like that, it is like, it conjures
and it requires gratitude. It requires gratitude, you know. But if you think, I'm in charge
of the water because I turn it on and I pay the bill, it's
like that's a fucking joke. That's a joke. See. [laughter] >> Ron Charles: From
the mouth of babes. [laughter] You knew I was
going to have you read this. >> Ross Gay: Great. It's called Thank 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
goes into the grass, watch the cloud ascending
from your lips. Walk through the
garden's dormant splendor. Say only thank you. Thank you. >> Oh, yeah. >> Ross Gay: That's
interesting, huh. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: It's
an early poem. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, it's
an early poem, yeah. It's the last poem of the book. >> Ron Charles: That spiritual
wisdom has been generating your poems for years. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, yeah,
yeah, yeah, totally. >> Ron Charles: Huh. We sing a hymn in my church,
a grateful heart a garden is. There is a kind of wisdom
and gratitude in being able to see what you've been given. >> Ross Gay: Oh my God, totally. >> Rob Casper: The
graciousness of your life. >> Ross Gay: Totally,
totally, yeah. Absolutely. Like it's a kind of, it
requires maybe many things, but tenderness among
them, you know. Like, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Humility. >> Ross Gay: Humility. >> Ron Charles: Love. >> Ross Gay: Yeah, love. God. How lucky. >> Ron Charles: The
last poem I'll ask you to read tonight, Wedding. >> Ross Gay: Oh. Cool. >> Ron Charles: I suppose this
was written for friends, but– >> Ross Gay: It was,
it totally was. >> Ron Charles: It
works for anybody. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. It's called Wedding Poem, yeah
for my friends Keith and Jen. Friends, I am here to modestly
report seeing in an orchard in my town a gold finch kissing
a sun flower again and again, dangling upside down by its
tiny claws, steadying itself by snapping open
like an old tiny 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 so feet away
and see from the tiny hulls that sailed form 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. [ Applause ] >> Ron Charles: So,
grateful you came tonight. >> Ross Gay: Yeah. >> Ron Charles: It's been
a delight to talk to you. >> Ross Gay: It's
fun to talk to you. Yeah, it's great. >> Ron Charles: There's
books for sale and people can come talk to
you and get their books signed. >> Ross Gay: Great, yeah. >> Ron Charles: Really nice >> Ross Gay: Thank you so much. It was really nice to talk. Yeah. >> Ron Charles: Thank you [ Applause ]

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