About this Poem 

"I am often amazed how minor though significant events slip out of my head and resurface--for various reasons. In this case, I imagine, the event slipped away because I was in some way wanting to protect ideas I have about myself--that is, I was ashamed of it, and maybe remained so until I was able to shake it out and kind of bless it with a poem." —Ross Gay

To My Best Friend's Big Sister

Ross Gay

One never knows
does one
how one comes to be
standing
most ways to naked
in front of one’s pal’s
big sister who has, simply
by telling me to,
gotten me to shed
all but the scantest
flap of fabric
and twirl before her
like a rotisserie
chicken as she
observes
and offers thoughtful critique
of my just
pubescent physique
which is not
a thing
to behold
what with my damp trunks
clinging to
my damp crotch
and proportion and grace
are words the definition
of which I don’t yet know
nor did I ask the
the mini-skirted scientist
sitting open-legged
and now shoeless
on my mom’s couch
though it may have been
this morning
while chucking papers
I heard through the Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
pulsing my walkman
a mourning
dove struggling
snared in the downspout’s
mouth and without
lowering the volume
or missing a verse
I crinkled the rusted aluminum
trap enough that with
a little wriggle
it was free
and did not
at once
wobble to some
powerline but sat on my hand
and looked at me
for at least
one verse of “It Takes Two”
sort of bobbing
its head
and cooing once or twice
before flopping off
but that seems very long ago
now
as I pirouette
my hairless and shivering
warble of acne and pudge
burning a hole
in the rug as big sis tosses off
Greek and Latin words
like pectorals and
gluteus maximus
standing to show me
what she means
with her hands on my love
handles and now
I can see myself
trying to add some gaudy flourish
to this memory
to make of it
a fantasy
which is why I linger
hoping to mis-recall
the child
me
make of me
someone I wasn’t
make of this
experience the beginning
of a new life
gilded doors
kicked open blaring
trombones a full
beard Isaac Hayes singing in the background
and me thundering forth
on the wild steed
of emergent manhood
but I think this child was not
that child
obscuring, as he was, his breasts
by tucking his hands
into his armpits
and having never even made love
to himself
yet was not
really a candidate for much
besides the chill
of a minor shame
that he would forget for 15 years
one of what would prove
to be many
such shames
stitched together like a quilt
with all its just legible
patterning which could be a thing
heavy and warm
to be buried in
or instead might be held up
to the light
where we see the threads
barely holding
so human and frail
so beautiful and sad and small
from this remove.

Copyright © 2013 by Ross Gay. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Ross Gay. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Ross Gay

by this poet

poem
Today, November 28th, 2005, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
I am staring at my hands in the common pose
of the hungry and penitent. I am studying again
the emptiness of my clasped hands, wherein I see
my sister-in-law days from birthing 
the small thing which will erase,
in some sense, the mystery of my father's
poem
Was with the pudgy hands of a thirteen-year-old
that I took the marble of his head
just barely balanced on his reedy neck
and with the brute tutelage
of years fighting the neighbor kids
and too the lightning of my father's
stiff palm I leaned the boy's head
full force into the rattly pane of glass
on the school