Screen Porch

An Appreciation: Ross Gay’s Poem “Thank You”


Melissa Jean

When Porch Instructor Melissa Jean asked if she could write a piece on the occasion of our Spring 2024 visit from poet and essayist Ross Gay, we didn't hesitate to say yes. Jean's piece is a lyrical response to Gay's poem "Thank You," and we recommend that you read them side by side. We feel great gratitude for both Gay's body of work and Jean's contribution to Screen Porch.

Ross Gay's recent books, The Book of Delights, Inciting Joy, and The Book of (More) Delights, center around themes of joy, pleasure, and gratitude, particularly as they are inextricably twined with the experiences of sorrow and grief, and our drive to confront injustice. Gay will appear in conversation with award-winning poet Tiana Clark at the Porch's annual fundraiser on April 5th at 7pm. You can purchase tickets to the fundraiser here and attend Gay's free reading and signing at the Nashville Public Library on April 6th at 3 p.m.


Say thank you for the gift, they told us; say thank you for the card. Say thank you twice so they know you mean it. Supposing gratitude is a ritual event, a polite performance, rather than a wild and spontaneous guest. Supposing two words is enough. Supposing gratitude can be conjured by dutifully reciting a script, rather than by knowing the oldest, deepest spells of awake and here and now:

We are always saying thank you to someone more than we are letting ourselves feel thank you. More than we are rising up in thank you or sitting ourselves down on the lawn in thank you or curling our toes in thank you. Supposing gratitude is an issue of politeness—but gratitude might not feel polite. (It might swell inside you like a balloon until it pops. You might whoop and holler, I don’t know.)

Try this impoliteness: Gratitude not as a performance of lines, but as a thing your body does when it remembers. As a thing that shows up when a cello plays a C or a baby grabs your finger or a blue heron sweeps low over the lake or someone you love laughs at your joke. When you get your hands on a new book by your favorite author or when you are warm inside while rain streaks the windows. When a poem.

Gratitude might not feel polite. It might swell inside you like a balloon until it pops.

And this wildness: Gratitude not as a one-winged bird chirping only positive thoughts, saying all the right things, but as two huge wings made light with the weight of everything, propelling us up and out; containing both the spontaneous joy of being alive and the hovering certainty of death, containing the pitched delight of the present moment and the grief that we cannot stay in it, and the knowing that delight comes and goes like this for us, for everyone—for some more than others.

Try gratitude as the vulture who decomposes us and leaves nothing the same as it was. Gratitude as beetles and soil and the garden in summer, and the garden in winter. Grief and awe spiral dancing, as always, and this old sweet ache of being a creature. (The only thing we aren’t allowed to do in this life is stay the same.)


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