-It's good to be here.
Thanks for coming.
And I'm going to talkabout, I think, six things.
First of all, I want to saythank you to the institute.
It is an amazing opportunity.
And I made some really greatfriends and thought things and heard things I neverwould've thought or heard before.
So it feels very luckyto be here, very lucky.
I kept wanting to make ajoke about– something like, and I'm so glad now it'sa three year fellowship.
And the second thingI want to say– We were listening to "Gratitude,"Earth, Wind, & Fire.
Do you all knowEarth, Wind, & Fire? And you probably know MauriceWhite died two weeks ago or something.
Maybe you didn't.
But I've been thinkingabout Maurice White.
I was watching someof Earth, Wind, & Fire's videos this morning.
So one of the thingsthat I love– I mean, that was like one of thegroups that I grew up on.
So you know, the musicthat I grew up with and that my– I kind ofgrew up with my father.
It was Earth, Wind, & Fire.
So I grew up actually rightoutside of Philadelphia.
And like, the otherlittle White kids were writing AC/DC and DefLeppard on their books.
And I was writingEarth, Wind, & Fire and the Commodores on my books.
I mean, if that song's calledgratitude– My book's called Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.
It just occurredto me how formative that that was and how beautifulthey were on stage– I mean, the music is incredible–but how beautiful they were.
I was looking at them,and Phillip Bailey, he looks like he's the young guywith the beautiful falsetto voice.
And I remember– They gota song called "Reasons.
" And it's like an adult,grownup, sexy song.
And I remember beingseven or eight years old singing the reasonsthat we're here.
[SINGING] In the morning,when I rise, no longer feeling hypnotized.
I was seven! And then, anotherthing I thought about is that when Iwas a kid, I would listen to the musicwith the headphones on.
And I heard my dad onetime, who was a huge reader, and I just wasn'tinto books as you.
Heard from my mother.
And I overheard my dad say, hey,lea– Cause I was sitting there reading the lyrics, becauseI would get all records off the Columbia Record Club.
And I overheard my dad sayto my mom, well, at least he's reading something! So Maurice White and my bigbrother taught me how to read.
The second thing I wanted tosay– So, he's in the room.
I have a teacher namedLucille Bertuccio who is– she might still bealive, but she's on her way– but she's a gardeningteacher in Bloomington.
And you know, she's one ofour elders in Bloomington who has given so muchof her life to us.
I first met her becauseI was at like an urban– like a foraging class, edibleweeds and stuff like that.
So you know, we'd beeating like violets off the ground ordandelions, which I love, and all kindsof stuff like that.
I took other classeswith her as well, as she was an incrediblemodel of some generosity and kindness.
She's so beautiful.
I can remember herwalking down the street– because you didn't havea car, so she'd always be walking with her cart whenshe's going to the market or whatever– her laugh, herincredible wisdom, her joy, her sort of rage–you know, her sort of beautiful, criticalrage at the ways that the planet'sgetting fucked up.
So anyway, I don't know ifshe's still here on this planet, but I want to bringher in the room too.
And I'm going toread a poem first, an elegy called "Burial.
" So I ask this questionwhenever I read this poem.
Has anyone done anythingwith their placenta? What? You.
What did you do? -I ask people the same question.
-Oh, you do? How come? -Because it's partof the work I do.
It's part of the work I do too.
Did anyone do anythingneat with their placenta? Besides just– Idon't know what you'd do with it if you don'tdo something neat with it.
Did anyone plant a tree with it? Thank you.
It's called "Burial.
" "You're right, you'reright, the fertilizer's good– It wasn't a gangthe dullards came up with chucking a fishin the planting hole or some midwife gotlucky with the placenta– oh, I'll plant a tree here.
And a sudden flush of quinceand jam enough for months.
Yes, the magic dustour bodies become casts spells on the roots aboutwhich someone else could tell you the chemical processes.
" Probably someone in this room.
"But it's justmagic to me, which is why a couple springs agowhen first putting in my two bare root plum trees out back,I took the jar which has become my father's home,and lonely for him and hoping to coax him backfor my mother as much as me, poured some of themin the planting holes.
And he dove in gladfor the robust air, saddling a slight gustinto to my nose and mouth, chucking as I coughed,but mostly he disappeared into the minor yawns in theearth into which I placed the trees, splayingwide their roots, casting the grey dust of my oldman evenly throughout the hole, replacing then the clodsof dense Indiana soil until the roots and myfather were buried, watering it all in with onehand while holding the tree with the other straight as a flagto the nation of simple joy of which my father is nowa naturalized citizen, waving the flag fromhis subterranean layer, the roots curled around himlike shawls or jungle gyms, like hookahs or thearms of ancestors, before breast-strokinginto the xylem–" Lucille taught me that word– "Riding the elevatorup through the cambium and into the leaves where, whenyou put your ear close enough, you can hear him whispergood morning, where, if you close your eyesand push your face you can feel hisstubbly jowls and good lord this year he would giddyat the first real fruit set and nestled into the 30 or40 plums in the two trees, peering out from the sweetmeat with his hands pressed against the purple skinlike cathedral glass, and imagine his joyas the sun wizarded forth those abundant sugars.
And I plodded barefoot andprayerful at the first right plum's swell and blush,almost weepy conjuring some surely ponderous averse toconvey this bottomless grace– you know, oh father ohfather kind of stuff– hundreds of hot air balloonsfilling the sky in my chest, replacing his intubated bodylisting like a boat keel side up, replacing thesteady stream of water from the one eye which hisbrother wiped before removing the tube, keeping hishand on the forehead until the last wind inhis body wandered off, while my brotherwailed like an animal.
And my mother said,weeping, it's OK.
It's OK, you can go, at allof which my father guffawed by kicking from the first bitebuckets of juice down my chin, staining one of my twobutton-down shirts, the salmon colored silk one,hollering there's more of that! almost dancing in theplum, in the tree, the way he did as a person,bent over and biting his lip and chucking the one hip outthen the other with his elbows cocked and fists loosely madeand eyes closed and mouth made trumpet whenhe knew he could make you happy just by beinga little silly and sweet.
" [APPLAUSE] Thank you.
This is my talk.
I wrote it this weekend.
And I thought I was goingto write a little thing and then do some other thing.
But then this thingjust keeps on coming.
I think it's called"A Book of Flowers.
" And I don't know if I willcall it "A Book of Flowers" before the part that I'm goingto read to you or after that.
But I just called it "ABook of Flowers" before it, so we have to go from there.
"A Book of Flowers.
" I'll say it again, I don't care! So the deal was– This is froman interview between my friend Kyla who– for therecord, I don't know I got this rightyet– She's also part of this African Americanpoetry community, Cave Canem, that I belong to.
She is coaxing this out of me.
She's like my teacherin this, in a way.
She asks me in theinterview, "There's a lot of grief incatalog, but there's also a tremendous amount of joy.
By the time I gotto the poem weeping and about the niece who's madea friend in this butterfly–" I had this poem about myniece and she becomes friends with a butterfly–"I was thinking, I'm reading a book of poemsabout flowers by a black man.
Even though you do talkabout things related to race, I wondered if you wereresisting all the things you could've been talking about.
Was any of that conscious? Or you just mindingyour business talking about your regular life?" Here's my answer.
"If there was any kind of overtaction the book is taking– and I don't want it to bea book against anything– it's a book imagining oradvocating for something.
It's really– likethe title says– It's advocating forsomething unabashed, something vulnerable,and you know, full-on.
If it's conscious ofany sort of confinement, it's a confinementthat I often feel when I want to expressa sort of wild love, when I want to be full-onabout what I adore.
And that's maybe whatthe book is most.
It has that kind of heart in it.
It wants to be nutsin love with shit, which includesbeing heartbroken, all torn up aboutstuff, and open.
And that can feelreally terrifying, that kind of opennessor attempt at openness.
I'll speak for myself.
That feels scary.
When you're like,oh I love this! Because then if someone'slike, fuck your little thing, that sucks.
The posture of irony isemotionally easy to take.
It's very much a way ofnot being vulnerable, not being addressed.
" "A Book of Flowers.
Kyla, you and I both knowthis is a bullshit answer.
You gently said as much to mewhen we ran into each other a few weeks after we did theinterview over the phone.
I said, hey, I'm going to tryto write another essay to more properly answer your question.
There's more to say.
To which you said,yeah, I kind of figured.
When we talked on the phone,I was wandering around Oakland after a long day at the BlackFarmers and Urban Gardeners Conference, a little bitlost and a lot hungry, looking for a place to eatthat might have something substantial and vegan both.
Not always easy to come by.
When I did finallyfind a place, it was not both, for the record.
And when you askedme the question, I couldn't quite formulatewhat it is I wanted to say.
That's because I didn'tquite know what I thought.
Or maybe moreaccurately, I didn't know I knew what I thought.
Though I did, ofcourse, I did, know what it means to be blackman writing a book of poems about flowers, as you say.
Though, Kyla, there are manyother things in my book, thank you very much.
I do want to say and re-say toanyone who will listen to me– thank you for asking,Kyla– that I believe in gratitude, 'flowers.
" There's a kind of discipline,an energizing and catalyzing and potentiallycollectivizing discipline.
What I mean is that, whenI'm thinking of gratitude or the gratitude I'm thinkingof is largely about the ways we make each other possible.
And gratitude makesme more interested in making peoplepossible, myself included.
Barbara Ehrenreich wrotea pretty compelling I'm-sick-of-all-this-gratitudepiece in the New York Times.
It kind of flayed the 'I'mso grateful for my Lexus SUV' stuff floating aroundthat I associate with Palm Springs or something,even though I don't actually know where that is.
I'm so grateful for mybeautifully manicured garden, et cetera.
And that's very far from whatI'm talking about, as you know.
I mean, how lucky it is to haveone of those Valentine's Day cards that plays arecording and a song, this one beltingout the Supremes, 'I Hear a Symphony,' and yourmurdered pal's voice telling you, Ross, I love youlike an old Motown record.
How lucky to have beenalive to care for your dying father after yearsof hardly been able to talk to each other,to open his water bottles when he couldn't openthem for himself, to scramble him a couple eggsand convince them to eat it.
How lucky to take a phone callduring your graduate workshop from an unfamiliarnumber, which was your pal calling fromthe psych ward the day after his suicide attempt.
How lucky to have done abeautiful thing in your life, to have loved something,to have touched with your hands thisearth, to have been loved, to have escaped, noneof which– and Lord, I hope it's in thepoems– implies evasion of sorrow or pain,none of which, lord knows, implies not lookingback, not reaching back.
No, I mean across,not reaching across.
If there's anything interestingto me about the palms, it's that they are motivatedby precisely the desire to reach across, which isexactly what metaphor means, after all.
Have you seen the movingtrucks in Greece emblazoned with the word metaphores.
My palms would be stupidlittle things to me, if they didn't reach your way.
Who has the time? But you said flowers,so let's talk flowers.
For instance, the mightydandelion, which in my garden is common enough for mybuddy to have actually said, whoa man, I've never seen somany dandelions in my life, and which is edibletop-to-bottom and paints the asses of honeybeesgold, to boot.
Who thinks of thearugula blossom, papery, peppery, with somehowa kiss as sweet at the end? And two, the falseindigo blooms? Who knows the false indigo? -Uh, yeah.
-Well, you'llunderstand me then.
And two, the falseindigo blooms.
I'm not kidding.
It's uncouth to say so, butI feel sometimes somehow the need to repeatmyself on this one.
It makes the riversin my body fill up– which yes, is a not-greatmetaphor for a sexy feeling– while watching the bumblebeeslumber up to them, nuzzling the blue petals until theypart and then some growling and quaking, beforethe bumblebee crawls from the cave, alldrowsy and pollen-lit, and does it again and again.
Can you believe it? How lucky for the precisefolk of the pear tree blooms from beneaththe bloomers of which tumbles an animalscooting in currents through the late spring air.
You should by now havewrinkled your nose and thought poorly of meand waved your dusty copy of Sir Benedict Cumberbatch'sCraft of Good Writing, First Edition in my direction athow mixed my metaphors have become in this place.
" It's true, that'snot a real book.
But man, that made me laughwhen I wrote First Edition.
I thought, that's a good touch! "I'm guessing if you cameto my garden with me, it might happen to you.
And what about the chokeberry? Not the same or as good as, butkind of like the chokecherry– bitter, makes yourtongue sticky– which I used to pick from theback of my grandpa's pickup truck in Verndale, Minnesota.
And serviceberry, AKAjuneberry, AKA saskatoon berry, whose many aliasespale in comparison to the many registers ofdeliciousness and health benefits of the simple berry.
And two, how luckyfor the goumi–" Does anyone knowwhat a goumi is? Aw.
Come to my garden.
"In fact, yes, letme take this moment to say no small praise uponthe goumi bushes in my garden.
Let us first attend to the wordin the mouth, which is itself a kind of miracle, forcingyou to become a baby again, glottal and cute–guh; before coaxing you to say ooh, you crooner,you; and then to say mm; which you know, is thesound of the things; and closing out with the ee.
That's a happy sound.
And then let us acknowledgetoo the no fewer than 8 trillion glassyfreckles shimmering the goumi's red surface,which when you account for the 8 trilliongoumi on this one bush, makes a galaxy ofglassy freckles.
" I was imagining themathematicians, like, walking out.
You don't knowwhat a trillion is.
Not to mention thatthe goumi makes its own nitrogen, its own food,and who does that these days? Not to mention, thesilvery leaves also speckled, fleckedto mirror the berry, or the flowerpreceding the berry, which is not quite likethe bell of a trombone, but I will say like the bellof a trombone today, because it is one of the manythings in my garden turns my body into a horn,pulling me into the orchestra.
And from that not quitetrombone or the trillions of them shivering onthe bush is belted a smell both sweet andcreamy that drops me some days to my very knees.
And I haven't mentionedyet the way they taste, the way they hang on thebush, slowly wisening into an unspeakablesweetness which will every day fromlate June to mid-July make you forget whateverthe hell it is you came out here to do, unlessyou came out here to eat goumi.
Or this– I have agood friend named Ginger, a neighbor'stortoiseshell cat, and she drops by daily.
And she likes to hoponto my shoulders when I'm bent overin the garden, so as to differentlysee her world.
Usually she getsup there and she likes to mosey out onto thegangplank plank of my arms, wrapping her frontlegs around it, smooshing her faceinto my bicep, and hurting me a littlebit with her claws.
Gingie has a weirdand imposing swagger, a slight leftwardcast to her trot, maybe because ofall the time she spends huffing in thecatmint in my garden, her little whiteponch swaying beneath.
And when she turns the cornerto my alley come April or May, which in southern Indiana is theseason of fledglings and baby bunnies and such, herparents will set off a cacophony ofchirps and whistles and screams, like somethingout of a Western or something.
I'm thinking nowof an Eddie Murphy skit in which his mother becomeswith her slipper like Clint Eastwood.
One of these days, I sawthrough the front window Ginger come trotting toward myhouse across the street with a murderouslook at her eye.
And I thought, uh oh.
And when she gotclose, I saw she had in her mouth, ababy bunny kicking its cute, little, cute,long, cute bunny feet.
I was mostly naked and barefootwhen I ran outside and startled Ginger just by slamming openthe screen door yelling, let the bunny go! Ginger dropped thecute little guy, and it scampered off a few feetbefore being recovered again.
Now I throw a rubber clog thatwas laying in the bee balm and sage at Ginger, amore aggressive version of distraction, justclipping her ear.
And the bunny this timemade a good getaway, maybe had a full second or two,while Ginger looked first at the clog andthen at me, really? Did you really just throwyour size 14 Croc at me? Then she added, lookingback over her shoulder as she began herpursuit, don't you know how stupid youlook in those things? The bunny bolted down thehill in front of my house, and Ginger boltedafter it, and I bolted after them both,barefoot and in my underwear.
The bunny made a hard rightand boogied up the sidewalk.
And though thebunny was quick, it was not Ginger, who closed onit almost immediately until, I kid you not, not onebut two blue jays dive-bombed her, screamingthe whole way down, which did in factdistract Ginger enough that thebunny scooted away, crossing the street in thefastest hops of her new life before getting into a thicket.
Gingie looked up into the skywith her paw over her face– the jays were convincing,very nasty, if pretty little fuckers– defending herselfagainst another attack.
And after Gingie sawthe jays perched back up in the crabapple tree,their chests flared up and their wings reshufflinglike switchblades clicking shut and sliding backinto pockets, she looked around forthe bunny, which was by now in the next county.
Then Gingie, after sniffing andthen licking first one paw then the other, the waysometimes basketball players will look at theirhands when they've missed a couple easyshots in a row–" I like that metaphor a lot.
[LAUGHTER] "turned around and me andshrugged as if to say, did that really just happen? It did.
I saw with my owneyes in my own garden which I feel so compelledto write, to spend time in, and to shout about its beauty,its wonder, its care to anyone who will listen.
Or this, what the parsleylooks like and flower in its second year,its weird stock shot up nearly myheight and the blooms like doilies pepperedwith luminous wasps.
Or the drift of mountainmint, its plumes poking from the dusty leaveson stocks about me-high, so thick with thirsty bugs,an orgy of bees and wasps and flitterers innumerable,that when you part them with your hands, pardon me,you might say, coming through, you might say, and thenlower your face to smell medicinal floral sharp– Thehumming there of the bees you have become is probablynot unlike the sound of blood moving through your body.
Or the last dance of the peachbloom, that wispy outfit it shimmies out of beforeswelling into fruit.
Kyla, do you know that ants helpthe peony bud unwrap by licking from the sticky bulb thesweet nectar you can see dotted in the flowers' surfacein little luminous gems? Ever find a bigburly mustard plant that had volunteereditself in the pine bark murch of the footof a blueberry bush? Ever cut down what youthought the mulberry tree that planted itself inthe wrong place, only to realize when itwouldn't die that it was a peach tree these days grownto 18 feet tall and heavy with a good yellow clingstonemore immune to the rock than all the others? Ever seen the blueberry flowers,like the teeniest white gowns after a rain, thebead of water topped in the flowers' tiny eye, yourreflection quaking in there, more like you than anyimage of you ever seen? Every slid 20 sweet potatoslips into a patch of yard without even turningthe soil, without even shearing the grass, andwatch those slips slither into a carpet ofheart-shaped greens, and after the firstfrost and loosening the soil with your pitchfork,slid your hands into the ground to yank out the clustersof sweet brown bodies, soil-covered and true? Look at me goingon like this, Kyla.
I'm resisting your questionabout resistance, looks like.
But I'm not really resisting.
Truth is, I'mmaking an argument.
I'm making anargument with my body and the ground about ourbodies and the ground.
When I told my buddy–Let's start again.
When I told my buddythe poet and essayist, and beatmaker anddancer Patrick Rosal that I was trying to answer yourquestion in a less bullshit way and I thought theremight be a way to do it through thegarden, through the ground, he sent along a little entryin an essay he's writing.
His piece, a seedling still–" It's a pun.
"–is ostensibly about beingmistaken for the waitstaff, despite being dressednothing like the waitstaff, by white lady at table 24 at theNational Book Award Ceremony, which is held at a place calledCipriani's, where that night they served beef cheeks.
Pat was there thatnight to celebrate a few of his friends, whoalso happen not to be white, being nominees orjudges, you know, to celebrate how far we've come.
I think she asked him to refillher wine glass or something.
He paid about $250for the pleasure.
This is what he sent along.
" So maybe you'll get this, buthe had a really nice suit, but it was reallycheap– inexpensive.
"'This two piece fitsme nice and slim, tapered along the sides, thesleeves long enough for me to flash a bit of French cuff,just snug in the shoulder for the lapels' gentle slopeto the simple double button– black, classy, and polyester.
The suit is $90.
OK, 105 with the in-seam hem.
That's one decent nightof drinks in Manhattan.
It's an expensive bottleof wine or a used TV.
It's an Amtrakticket, round-trip from Philly to New York Penn.
It's a used parlor guitarwith a cracked tuning peg.
It could buy me enoughkush to get me lifted twice a week for three months.
But I'm buying thissuit right here to go to cheer hard for friendswho were being celebrated at the National Book Awards.
Black tie, the invite says.
My seat at the tablecost me almost 2 and 1/2 times the price of my suit.
I pay up, because Iwant to be in the room to dap my brothers and sisters.
Get it? The word "style" iscousin to "stylus," to etch, or to engrave.
And so it is a way to inscribeoneself upon the world, but also a way to dig, todelve into, to investigate.
Style is then aninquiry to engrave.
Style furthermore is a wayto carve a place, a hole into some landscape.
It is a way to preparethe earth for the body.
'" That's Pat's part.
"And I might take this lyricetymology one step further or build a littleaddition onto it, with your and Pat's permission,because style is also a way of looking.
Both Pat's looking good inhis off-the-rack– I saw him and the way he looked wasreal clean, sharp enough to catch you; in fact, he killedme and my corny-ass text– and a particular wayof looking, of seeing, which a book aboutflowers might be.
How you look and how you look.
How you look and how you look.
So the words 'look'–or another hop here, 'see'– might also be a modeof inscribing oneself upon the world or out of it.
It might be also a kind ofengraving or digging, which might also be akind of shoveling.
And you know wherethis is going.
How you see or what yousee depends on the ground.
You cannot engrave, inother words, you cannot dig, in other words, you cannotprepare the earth for your body without the properand true ground.
Maybe this book offlowers is a preparation for the ground I wish to enter.
Preparing the groundfor our bodies.
Yes, of course, I mean the land.
But I'm really talking aboutthe ground, what holds us, what we walk on,what we fall onto, what we leap from, whatholds us, the ground.
Or in a painting, thatagainst which the marks are made in a Franz Kline painting,the big industrial swipes of black arguing with oremerging from or even resisting the creamy surfaces, gestureslegible because of the ground, dependent upon the ground.
Or better yet aGlen Ligon painting, the Zora Neale Hurston quote andblack text on a white surface, 'I feel most colored when I'mthrown against a sharp white background.
' And if there are these physicalor visual grounds, the grounds of an image, I'm reallycurious about the grounds of our imaginations and theground it is implied or assumed by the word resistance inthe context of your question and some other similar questionsI've got about this book.
What are you resisting in yourbook of flowers, Black man? Turns out, I might be kindof resistant to the word resistance.
I'm resistant tothe word resistance because what I hopeI'm doing actually is imagining a grounddifferent than the one the question presumes.
Because the ground thatquestion presumes is something I refuse to abide.
On that ground, which isperhaps a simply descriptive of an America, whichis for the record, like everything fleeting.
Let's call it an Americanground, in which, for which, upon which black peopleare not actually people.
And sometimes itfeels that if America grants that if we arepeople, that it also imagines that our natural condition ispain, is suffering, is turmoil, is indignity, is death.
It's big business, oursuffering, our death.
All kinds of people dance to it.
All kinds of people fuck toit and fall in love to it.
People hold handsin darkened theaters to it, weeping andentering a ground.
People grow up to it, willfeel nostalgic for it, for our death.
It's the best TVseries of all time.
It's got the best beat.
Sometimes seems to methat a black person becomes more legible in thisparticular American ground the closer theyare to being dead.
Wait, wait, I have to watchthis murder one more time.
And whoa, there goes another.
That is the ground.
I hear myself sayit among friends, so I'll say to youright now that they would like us to believe it.
They would like us tobelieve– I sometimes believe, watching WalterScott been shot again and again on the news when anychild could see, watching Tamir Rice be murdered again andagain– that our natural state, our natural condition, ourground is pain, if not death.
There's a child, I thinkhe's eight years old– you know this, don't you?–who was inventing a rocket pack to escape thebullets fired at him, by– he doesn't know thisyet– this American imaginative ground, a rocket pack that willpropel him far above and beyond the reach of that ground.
Let's call that, yes, anAmerican imaginative ground.
Let's call it somethinglike a foundational American imaginative ground.
And let me say, I don'tbelieve in it as a ground.
And consequently, I don'tbelieve in it as something to be resisted.
I just believe it's a persistentand abhorrent disruption to the actual ground, theactual ground being what I hope my book, a black man'sbook of flowers might look at.
Or since Cornelius Eadysays it better in his poem, "Gratitude"– yes,I am a copycat– then I could everhope to, quote, "I'm a brick and house that isbeing built around your house.
" Or to stay kind of on topic,I'm a flower in a garden, being planted around yourgarden, a fervent and raucous mint.
So what's the ground? Our necessary lives orour lives necessary.
And in our lives are manythings– loss, sorrow, violence, pain, yes, butalso delight, silliness, raucous laughter, care–care as I see it, above all.
Love, as I see it, above all.
A thousand, thousandundocumented instances in my life alone of how I'vebeen loved and cared for, lives that have seen my lifeand thereby made it possible.
Lives, life, which hasmade our lives possible.
It's a poem.
It's called 'ASmall Needful Fact.
' Is that Eric Garnerworked for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department,which means, perhaps, that with his very large hand,perhaps, in all likelihood, he put gently into the earthsome plants which, most likely, some of them, in alllikelihood, continue to grow, continue to do whatsuch plants do, like house and feed smalland necessary creatures, like being pleasantto touch and smell, by convertingsunlight into food, like making it easierfor us to breathe.
Celebration, exultation,praise, and gratitude, and the rigorous practice,the rigorous public practice of those things is one ofthe ways we remind ourselves that our lives are the ground,that living is the ground.
Those things remindus that being murdered and fucked over andterrorized is aberration and to announce tothe state or a shared consciousness or a brokenAmerican imagination by hollering with the light atour utterly necessary lives, our beautiful, beautifulnecessary lives, that we are infact meant to live.
And so Kyla, thisbook about flowers by a black man– you knewall along, I suspect, sorry I can be long winded sometimes–was both utterly conscious– I knew what I wasand wasn't saying and what perhaps I'mexpected to be saying– and it was just meminding my business, talking about my life, my life.
" How much time do I have? We started, what,like ten minutes late? Five? 13 minutes late? -Why, what do you want to do? -I want to read a poem.
-Sure! -OK, OK.
It's called "Catalog ofUnabashed Gratitude.
" The orchard that youtalked about is in there, and also there's this childnamed Aralee, who in the poem is an idea, and nowthat's a person.
"Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.
Friends, will youbear with me today, for I have awakened from adream in which a robin made with its shabby wings a kind ofveil behind which it shimmied and stomped somethingfrom the south of Spain, its breast aflare, looking medead in the eye from the branch that grew into my window,coochie-cooing my chin, the bird shufflingits little talons left, then right, whilethe leaves bristled against the plaster wall two ofthem drifting onto my blanket while the bird opened and closedthe wings like a matador giving up on murder, jutting itsbeak, turning a circle, and flashing, again, the ruddy bombast of its breastby which I knew upon waking it was telling me inno uncertain terms to bellow forth thetubas and sousaphones, the whole rusty brassband of gratitude not quite dormant in my belly.
It said so in a human voice,'Bellow forth.
' And who among us could ignore suchodd and precise counsel? Here ye! Here ye! I am here to holler that I'vehauled tons– by which I don't mean lots, I meantons– of cowshit and stood ankle deepin swales of maggots swirling the spent beer grainsthe brewery man was good enough to dump off holding his nose,for they smell very bad, though make the compost writhegiddy and lick its lips, twirling dung with my pitchforkagain and again with hundreds and hundreds of other people.
We dreamt an orchard thisway, furrowing our brows, and hauling ourwheelbarrows, and sweating through our shirts, and lessthan a year later, there was a party at whichtrees were sunk into the well-fedearth, one of which, a liberty apple,after being watered in was tamped by a babybarefoot with the bow hanging in her hair, biting herlip in her joyous work.
And friends this is therealistic place I know.
It makes me squirm likea worm I'm so grateful.
You could ride your bikethere or roller skate or catch the bus.
There's a fence and agate twisted by hand.
There's a fig tree tallerthan you in Indiana.
It'll make you gasp.
It might make you want tostay alive, even, thank you.
And thank you for not taking mypal when the engine of his mind dragged him to swig fistfullsof Xanax and a bottle or two of booze.
And thank you fortaking my father a few years after hisown father went down.
Thank you, mercy.
Mercy, thank you.
For not smoking methwith your mother.
Oh thank you for leavingand for coming back.
And thank you for whatinside my friends' love bursts like a throng ofroadside goldenrod gleaming into the world, likelyhauling a shovel with her, like one named Aralee ought,with hands big as a horse's, and who, like onenamed Aralee ought, will laugh time to time tilthe juice runs from her nose.
Oh, thank you for theway a small thing's wail makes the milk orwhat once was milk in us gather into horseshuckle-buckling across a field.
And thank you friends, when lastspring the hyacinth bells rang and the crocuses flauntedtheir upturned skirts, and a quiet rovedthe beehive which when I entered weresnugged two or three dead fist-sized clutchesof bees between the frames, almost clinging to one another,this one's tiny head pushed into another's tiny wings,one's forelegs resting on another's face,the translucent paper of their wings flutteringbeneath my breath and when a few dropped tothe frames beneath, honey.
And after falling down to cry,everything's glacial shine.
And thank you, too.
And thanks for the corduroycouch I have put you on.
Put your feet up.
Here's a blanket, apillow, dear ones, for I think this isgoing to be long.
I can't stop mygratitude, which includes, dear reader, you, forstaying here with me, for removing the lipsjust so as I speak.
Here is a cup of tea.
I've spooned honey into it.
And thank you the tiny bee'sshadow perusing these words as I write them and the waymy love talks quietly when in the hive, soquietly, in fact, you cannot hear her voice, butonly notice barely her lips moving in conversation.
Thank you what doesnot scare her in me, but makes her reach my way.
Thank you the love sheis which hurts sometimes.
And the time she misrememberedelephants in one of my poems, which here they come, garlandedwith morning glory and wisteria blooms, trombones all theway down to the river.
Thank you the quiet inwhich the river bends around the elephant's solemn trunk,polishing stones, floating on its gentle back, the flockof geese flying overhead.
And to the quick andgentle flocking of men to the old lady falling downon the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patientlywith the softest parts of their hands hercane and purple hat, gathering for her thecontents of her purse and touching hershoulder and elbow.
Thank you the cockeyedcourt on which in a half-courtthree on three, we oldheads made of somerunny-nosed kids a shambles, and the 61-year-old–the 61-year-old after flipping a reverselay-up off a back door cut from my no-look pass to sealthe game ripped off his shirt and threw punches at thegods and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker's scargrinning across his chest.
Thank you the glad accordian'swheeze in the chest.
Thank you the bagpipes.
Thank you to the womanbarefoot in the gaudy dress for stopping her car inthe middle of the road and the tractor trailer behindher, 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 sheerdress you wore kneeling in my dreamat the creek's edge and the lightswimming through it.
The koi kissing halos into theglassy air, the room in my mind with the blindsdrawn where we nearly injure each other crawling intothe shawl of the other's body.
Thank you when Ijust say it plain– we fuck each other dumb.
And you, again, you,for the true kindness it has been for you to remainawake with me like this, nodding time to time and makingthat little noise that I take to mean yes, or, I understand,or, please go on, but not too long, or why are youspitting so much, or easy Tiger, hands to yourself.
I am excitable.
I am sorry.
I am grateful.
I just want us to befriends now, forever.
Take this bowl ofblackberries from the garden.
The sun has made them warm.
I picked them just for you.
I promise, I will try tostay on my side of the couch.
And thank you the baggieof dreadlocks I found in the drawer while washingand folding the clothes of our murdered friend, thephoto in which his arm slung around the sign to the 'trailof silences.
' Thank you the way before he died, he heldhis hands open to us, for coming back in a waftof incense or in the shape of a boy in another city lookingfrom between his mother's legs, or disappearing into the stacksafter brushing by, for moseying back in dreams where, seeing uslost and scared he put his hand on our shoulders and pointedus to the temple across town.
And thank you to theman all night long hosing a mist on hisearly-bloomed peach tree so that the hard frost not wastethe crop, the ice in his beard and the ghosts lifting fromhim when the warming sun told him sleep now.
Thank you theancestor who loved you before she knew you bysmuggling seeds into her braid for the long journey, wholoved you before he knew you by putting a walnut tree inthe ground, who loved you before she knew you bynot slaughtering the land.
Thank you who did not bulldozethe ancient grove of dates and olives, who sailedhis keys into the ocean and walked softly home, whodid not fire, who did not plunge the head into thetoilet, who said stop, don't do that, who liftedsome broken someone up, who volunteered the way a plantbirthed of the receding plant is called a volunteer, likethe plum tree that marched beside the raisedbed in my garden, like the arugulathat marched itself between the blueberries, narya bayonette, nary an army, nary a nation, which usage of the wordvolunteer familiar to gardeners the wide world made mypal should 'Oh!' and dance and plunge his knuckles into theluscious soil before gobbling two strawberries and digginga song from his guitar made of wood from a treesomeone planted.
Thank you zinna, and gooseberry,rudbeckia, and pawpaw, Ashmead's kernel, cockscomb,and scarlet runner, feverfew and lemonblam.
Thank you knitbone andsweetgrass and sunchoke and false indigo whose petalsstammered apart by bumblebees good lord pleasegive me a minute.
And moonglow andcatkin and crookneck and painted tongue andseedpod and johnny jump-up.
Thank you what in us racketsglad what gladrackets us.
And thank you too, thisknuckleheaded heart, this pelican heart,this gap-toothed heart flinging open itsgaudy maw to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefucked,oh giddy, oh dumbstruck, oh rickshaw, oh goattwisting its head at me from my peach tree's highestbranch, balanced impossibly gobbling the lastfruit, its tongue working like an engine, alone sweet drop tumbling by some a miracle into mymouth like the smell of someone I've loved, heart likean elephant screaming at the bones of its dead, heartlike a lady on the bus dressed head to toe in gold, the sunshivering her shiny boots, singing Erykah Baduto herself leaning her head against the window.
And thank you the way one timemy father came back in a dream by plucking the two cablesbeneath my chin like a bass fiddle's strings and playedme until I woke singing.
No kidding, I was singingand smiling, thank you.
Thank you, stumbling into thegarden where the Juneberry's flowers had burst open likethe bells of French horns, the lily my motherand I planted oozed into the air, thebazillion ants labored in their earthenworkshops below, the collared greens waved in thewind like the sales of ships, and the wasps swam in themint bloom's viscous swill.
And you, again you, forhanging tight, friends.
I know I can be longwinded sometimes.
I want so badly to rubthe sponge of gratitude over every thing, includingyou, which is awkward.
The little soap runninginto your hoodie or down your collar.
Soon it will beover, which is what the little girl in my dreamsaid, holding my hand, pointing at therolling sea and the sky hurtling our way like somany buffalo, who said, it's much worse thanyou think, and sooner.
To whom I said, no duhchild in my dreams.
What do you think thissinging and shuddering is, what this screaming andreaching and dancing and crying is, other than loving whatevery second goes away? Goodbye, I mean to say.
And thank you.
" Thank you.