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[an essayette by poet Ross Gay and a poem by Bill Griffin]

Joy is Such a Human Madness: The Duff Between Us

Or, like this: in healthy forests, which we might imagine to exist mostly above ground, and be wrong in our imagining, given as the bulk of the tree, the roots, are reaching through the earth below, there exists a constant communication between those roots and mycelium, where often the ill or weak or stressed are supported by the strong and surplused.

By which I mean a tree over there needs nitrogen, and a nearby tree has extra, so the hyphae (so close to hyphen, the handshake of the punctuation world), the fungal ambulances, ferry it over. Constantly. This tree to that. That to this. And that in a tablespoon of rich fungal duff (a delight: the phrase fungal duff, meaning a healthy forest soil, swirling with the living the dead make) are miles and miles of hyphae, handshakes, who get a little sugar for their work. The pronoun who turned the mushrooms into people, yes it did. Evolved the people into mushrooms.

Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things–the trees and the mushrooms have shown me this–joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, into the duff between us, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.

from The Book of Delights, Ross Gay, Algonquin books of Chapel Hill, © 2019

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My daughter Margaret gave me this book by Ross Gay for my birthday in 2020 and it’s been waiting patiently with its companions on the to-be-read-someday shelf until this month. I flipped it open and read a couple of the daily musings on delight (a page or two, observations and reflections that Ross decided half-way through the project to call essayettes). They are like a Whitman’s Sampler – once you’ve opened the box you know you’re going to eat every one.

So I’ve left the book beside the couch and picked it up when random minutes offered themselves unfilled. It’s hard to read just one or two, though – coffee has cooled and soup has threatened to boil over.

This particular entry, though, stopped me in my tracks. I read it over and over. Not only because it followed the amazing interview with Merlin Sheldrake I had just discovered in the May issue of The Sun, all about mycorrhizal networks and sentient fungi and the meaning of life and everything, but because of the way Ross Gay interweaves joy and sorrow and delight and death. Maybe he is right, as many of his essayettes seem to suggest – if we face the one thing we all share in common, which is death, and even God forbid talk about it, maybe we can discover that it is possible to step past the fear into a space that reveals joy – delight – every day.

Which is to say: Hey, life is suffering – along the way let’s you and I share a little delight.

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Rule #1 No Hurting

I tell you this while you whack me
with your little plastic hammer: what I mean
is no hurting other people, not that you
could really damage me
with those little boy hands I love
but sometimes it does sting. Maybe I’m worried
about your buddies at playschool: hitting
begets automatic time out. Or do I mean
your Mom and Dad: see their tears
when you fall? When you are bruised?
And pain you can’t see: someday
you are bound to bruise their hearts.

How we do hurt each other, and how
could it be otherwise, two souls
all entangled while we stumble,
lash out, grab for help, and I
won’t tell you now but I know this:
you will hurt me too, although I
will have handed you the knife
of loving you and hoping
life won’t leave its scars.
But this is what Rule #1 doesn’t mean:
No hurting inside. I’m sorry, Grandson,
no platitudes about for your own good
you will suffer because you too
are human and our world makes no
distinction. Just remember Rule #2:
I will cry with you.

Bill Griffin

from Tar River Poetry, Vol. 55, Nr. 2; Spring, 2015

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Additional links for Ross Gay:

Review of The Book of Delights

Books

The On Being Project

 

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