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08-24-2017

 

Ross Gay

 

To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian 

Tumbling through the
city in my
mind without once
looking up 
the racket in
the lugwork probably
rehearsing some
stupid thing I
said or did
some crime or
other the city they
say is a lonely
place until yes
the sound of sweeping
and a woman
yes with a 
broom beneath
which you are now
too the canopy
of a fig its 
arms pulling the
September sun to it
and she
has a hose too
and so works hard
rinsing and scrubbing
the walk
lest some poor sod
slip on the silk 
of a fig
and break his hip
and not probably
reach over to gobble up
the perpetrator 
the light catches
the veins in her hands 
when I ask about 
the tree they 
flutter in the air and
she says take
as much as
you can 
help me
so I load my 
pockets and mouth
and she points
to the step-ladder against 
the wall to
mean more but
I was without a 
sack so my meager
plunder would have to 
suffice and an old woman
whom gravity
was pulling into
the earth loosed one
from a low slung 
branch and its eye
wept like hers
which she dabbed
with a kerchief as she
cleaved the fig with
what remained of her
teeth and soon there were
eight or nine 
people gathered beneath
the tree looking into
it like a constellation pointing
do you see it
and I am tall and so
good for these things
and a bald man even 
told me so 
when I grabbed three
or four for 
him reaching into the 
giddy throngs of
wasps sugar 
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach 
it was hot his
head shone while he 
offered recipes to the 
group using words which 
I couldn’t understand and besides
I was a little
tipsy on the dance
of the velvety heart rolling
in my mouth
pulling me down and
down into the
oldest countries of my 
body where I ate my first fig
from the hand of a man who escaped his country
by swimming through the night 
and maybe
never said more than
five words to me
at once but gave me
figs and a man on his way
to work hops twice
to reach at last his
fig which he smiles at and calls 
baby, c’mere baby,
he says and blows a kiss
to the tree which everyone knows
cannot grow this far north
being Mediterranean
and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils
of Jordan and Sicily
but no one told the fig tree
or the immigrants
there is a way
the fig tree grows
in groves it wants,
it seems, to hold us,
yes I am anthropomorphizing
goddammit I have twice
in the last thirty seconds
rubbed my sweaty 
forearm into someone else’s
sweaty shoulder
gleeful eating out of each other’s hands
on Christian St.
in Philadelphia a city like most
which has murdered its own 
people 
this is true
we are feeding each other 
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe 
never again.

-from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

PROMPT: Let's get out of the house for this one, and let's let Ross Gay lead the way.

Go to a street corner on your block, in your neighborhood, somewhere you frequent, somewhere you've never been before...whatever! Just pick a street corner, pick a random object on that corner (a tree, a broken car door handle in the gutter, a street sign, a person, graffitti, again, whatever!), and across the top of the page write "To the ____ on ____ and ____" and write, much as Gay does here, a stream-of-consciousness meditation on said object. Don't worry about linebreaks, bottom punctuation (commas, periods, semi-colons) or logic; just write. When it feels right to turn personal, do it. When it feels right to expand to the farthest regions of the universe, do that. Then take what you've got, see what themes run throughout, and start playing with line breaks and how those breaks, again as Gay does here, helps make logical the otherwise illogical.

 

BIO: 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 Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award, and it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.  

Ross is the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook "Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens," in addition to being co-author, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., of the chapbook, "River."  He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin', in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press.  Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.