Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Poetry Response: to the fig tree on 9th and christian, by Ross Gay

We have a wonderful librarian at Pomona. She is always looking out for us. Sometimes, I will walk into my classroom and there will be a little stack of books on my chair with a post-it on them. Or I will find a new book tucked into my mailbox at the school. I often don't have time for whatever marvel of book-writing she has placed within my care, but sometimes...sometimes...

That brings me to the poetry of Ross Gay. A few weeks ago I found two new collections of poetry on my chair; one of them was catalog of unabashed gratitude, by Ross Gay. Today I read three poems from the collection and I have to say, I am now a fan. So, I will probably be bringing you several poetry responses over poems in this collection.

to the fig tree on 9th and christian
by Ross Gay

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
to 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
yellow-jackets sugar
stoned which he only
pointed to smiling and
rubbing his stomach
I mean he was really rubbing his stomach
like there was a baby
in there
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 call
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, sunbaked 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
this is true
we are feeding each other
from a tree
at the corner of Christian and 9th
strangers maybe
never again.

This! THIS! This huge poem is absolutely beautiful. Gay is trying to express to his readers that simple things, something as simple as a fig, or a fig tree, can be all we need to bring people together. I believe that he accomplishes this wonderfully.

The poem opens with "Tumbling through the / city in my / mind without once / looking up", from my point of view, I believe that Gay is throwing us into this dream world. He knows that this image of people feeding each other from a fig tree in the middle of the city is a fantasy, and I would argue that we as a reader understand that it is a fantasy as well. But, what a fantasy, right? If only things like this happened in real life. Our world would be a better place. Because, like I mentioned earlier, sometimes it just takes something very simple to bring people together. Working together, eating together, sharing in an experience; this is what the people in this poem are doing--sharing in an experience. One that immediately makes every person involved powerful and vulnerable and willing to engage with their fellow man.

Gay's poetic structure and diction is very simplistic, but I think, even that, adds to the overall effect of the poem. He could have summarized this event in a much shorter structure--longer lines, spread out across the page. And he could have chosen larger words--I haven't read much, but I assume he knows and uses a ton of words. But Gay choses to keep it simple, just like his message in the story of the poem. The simplistic nature of this poem is keeping in theme with the story that is happening to the speaker. Gay is hoping that his poem will have an effect on his reader, a very similar effect as the one discussed in the previous paragraph.

I enjoyed this poem thoroughly. The lack of capitalization, punctuation--so you have the read the whole thing in a single breath--it all adds to the enjoyment of a terrific poem.

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