Two Poems by Ross Gay

Oct. 6, 2016: Hummingbird

Today as I was walking down Foothill Blvd. to do laundry (the laundromat one of my delights—not quite the democratic space of the post office or public library, but still, delightful) a hummingbird buzzed past me and alighted in a mostly dead tree poking almost up to the power line. The bird sat on the spindly little branch that bounced in the breeze, twisting its little head and big proboscis this way and that, but mostly just standing still, looking out over the little traffic jam on the far side of the street, not moving even as I got almost directly beneath the thing. I’ve never seen one sitting still like that for so long so in the open—while I’m writing this, sitting on the curb, a young woman, a kid, walked by wearing a kind of cat hat (winter hat with pointy ears—it’s about 88 today), and she was walking a mini-doberman pinscher with pink booties skitching across the asphalt—although my partner thinks the hummingbird might be my totem animal (there goes cat-hat and doggie-slippers again) given how they seem to follow me around.

Once I saw one perusing the red impatiens outside my building at school, and I walked slowly over to the planting, plucked one, holding it in my outstretched hand perfectly still long enough that at least one student walking my way crossed the street so as not to get too close to me, until the little bird did in fact dip its face into the meager sweet in my hand. And another time I was visiting with a woman who I’d met at a reading in Berkeley who wanted to show me her garden (that’s not a euphemism—her actual garden), and after we walked through it (lots of flowers, a few fruit trees, beehives, beautiful) we sat down on the deck overlooking the actual garden where she got around to telling me about a friend of hers whose husband was ill and encouraged her to take other lovers if she wanted, which she did—want and take. How’s it going for her, I asked, and before my host could respond, a hummingbird buzzed by, almost ruffling her long gray hair, and dipped its beak in neck deep to the honeysuckle just behind my new friend’s head, its wings almost moaning, the nearly audible sound of slurping as the bird pushed its head in and out of the little temple of the flower, at which she said, smiling a little, “I think it’s going pretty good.”

 

Oct. 6, 2016: But, maybe...

The other day I was driving with my partner Stephanie back to our beautiful, ugly little house and I said, imitating someone’s disdain for something, “whoop-de-doo.” She said, “whoop-de-doo good or bad?” I said, “whoop-de-doo is bad.” She said, “Always?” I said, “Always, whoop-de-doo is always bad.” She said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Oh, I’m sure!” She said, “You’re telling me whoop-de-doo is never good?” I said, “I guess I can’t say for sure.” Certainly it delights me when someone (especially someone other than dear Stephanie) alerts me to a significant possible crack in the foundations of my knowledge, lexical or otherwise. The delight might come down the road a ways, as this one did—both for the fissure, and for the attitude of illumination and possibility that exposed it. (I had a roommate and friend who, after I was exasperated with the shitty television programming that wasn’t college basketball, told me, “You could just change your mind.”) For I’m pretty goddamned sure whoop-de-doo always means something like big shit, but even that phrase of dismissal and contempt now is thrown into doubt, so obvious is it that the veneer of irony might easily be peeled from it. Big shit meaning wow, I mean. A dismissive phrase my mother discharges like she’s getting paid to do it is la-di-da, meaning something like, aren’t your britches big, which, yes, thinking a little bit about it, could be good, big britches indicating prosperity and weather-readiness. Not to mention the Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh song, which, every day in the sixth grade, we sang: Antonio making the beat on the green vinyl seats, his little brother Mike next to him, me and Maurice and Kamara nearby, all singing or screaming, driving the driver, surely, crazy, la-di-da-di, all the big shit twelve-year-olds conducting all the little squirts with their big britches, la- di-da, whoop-de-doo, it was delightful.