thank you

Oct 22, 2020 poetry appreciation

At the moment, the world is offering us lots of reminders that life is short and time’s winged chariot is always hurrying near. It’s easy to get sucked into fear, anger or sorrow about this. They’re all around us (as well as inside us). So I was particularly delighted to discover this poem which suggests a different and beautiful response to intimations of mortality. Here it is: ‘Thank you‘ by Ross Gay. Read it and be refreshed. (You can also hear him read a couple of bits from a recent book here.)

I’m not normally a fan of being told what to do, feel or say (who is?), so for me it’s important that the poem acknowledges the reality of pain and difficulty, as well as suggesting how we might react to them. For a start, the poem is full of compassionate awareness of out vulnerability: we’re ‘half naked/ and barefoot’; we only have a ‘small voice’; we are all ‘the air of the now and gone’ and will ‘turn to dust’. It also acknowledges that there is something very human about responding to pain by ‘tak[ing] cover’. It reminds us, too, of the power there is in simply letting what is, be: we’re invited to ‘curl [our] toes/ into the grass’ even though it is ‘frosty’, and watch the miracle of our breath pluming in the cold air. Above all, it insists on the importance of feeling gratitude: not in a dutiful acknowledgement, thank-you-for-inviting-me-to-your-party sort of a way, but because consciously noting stuff we appreciate somehow helps us notice more things to feel thankful for. I guess that’s to do with what you see being affected by where you’re looking from.

‘Thank you’ reminds us that being alive at all is a squillion-to-one miracle, a gift we could never earn or give ourselves. We’re lucky to exist, even though it’s easy to forget that when you catch sight of the red-tops or hear too much news… Besides, that ‘splendor’ is currently ‘dormant’ is very different from saying it’s “gone”, “absent” or “dead”. ‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?‘. Important to hang on to that.

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