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; 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.
Ross Gay read this poem in 2016 at Split This Rock which was cancelled this year. I was to have been on two panels, one I wrote and one I was to be a participant of along with some friends. I chose to close with the poem because that is how I feel about this entire month, one of great gratitude. When Ross read this poem at Split This Rock tears ran down my face. This is the power of poetry. His work is marvelous and rich.
Angie Trudell Vasquez (Mexican-American 2nd & 3rd generation Iowan) holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has been published in Taos Journal of Poetry, Yellow Medicine Review, Raven Chronicles, The Rumpus, Cloudthroat, and the South Florida Poetry Journal. She has poems on the Poetry Foundation’s website, and was a Ruth Lilly fellow as an undergraduate at Drake University. Her third collection of poetry, In Light, Always Light, was released by Finishing Line Press in May 2019. She co-guest edited the Spring 2019 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review. She serves on the Wisconsin State Poet Laureate Commission, and currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. On January 20, 2020 she became Madison’s newest Poet Laureate.