Ben Purkert on "Before I Go"

Before I Go

first let me thank my sneakers
for raising me an inch, freshwater
for always being there, even
in cubes, I have so many

T-cells I'm afraid of forgetting
their names, really gasoline got me
where I am today, the sky also
made an impact, I truly

can't say enough about space,
so many families of galaxies
gathered around, a few footprints
on the moon & earth but none

between, like an unworn
patch of ice & once I step off
this stage you'll clear me
from your mind, you'll enter

delete in one sense water
takes the shape of anything,
in another it simply rests
its head forever

On "Before I Go"

I gave myself a simple prompt: Write a poem of thanks. Like I'm delivering an acceptance speech at the Oscars or something, but the only "award" I've received is the gift of being alive. How would I convey my appreciation with that red light blinking, urging that my time is almost up? How would I rush that unspeakable gratitude into words?

As poets, gratitude is in our DNA. After all, the ode is one of the genre's oldest forms; we've been singing the praises of this world since the beginning. But while some contemporary poets thrive in this register (I'm thinking of Ross Gay and his brand of "unabashed gratitude"), it's challenging to pull off. It's safer to write from a place of ironic distance, riskier to heap praise on something and mean it.

In this poem, I'm both serious and not. The sneakers giving me a little extra bounce, the freshwater keeping me hydrated during the day: these are mundane, almost comically minor details. Or are they? If footwear and potable water seem trivial to me, it's because I'm privileged enough to take them for granted. Poetry teaches me to praise everyday blessings and not overlook them. As Rilke writes in The Book of Hours, "No thing is too small for me to cherish / and paint in gold."



An earlier version of this poem appeared in Narrative Magazine.





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