Poem-a-Day - "Ghazal of Oranges" by Jan-Henry Gray

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October 28, 2022 

Ghazal of Oranges

Jan-Henry Gray

On New Year’s Eve, my father overfills the baskets with oranges,
mangoes, grapes, grapefruits, other citrus too, but mostly oranges.

The morning of the first, he opens every window to let the new year in.
In Chinatown, red bags sag with mustard greens and mandarin oranges.

A farmer in a fallow season kneels to know the dirt. More silt than soil,
he wipes his brow and mumbles to his dog: time to give up this crop of oranges.

The woman knows she let herself say too much to someone undeserving.
She lays her penance on her sister’s doorstep: a case of expensive oranges.

At the Whitney, I take a photo of a poem in a book behind the glass.
Above it, a painting: smears of blue, Frank O’Hara, his messy oranges.

The handsome server speaks with his hands: Tonight is grilled octopus
with braised fennel and olives, topped with peppercress, cara caras, and blood
    oranges
.

No one at the table looks up, ashamed by the prices on the chic menus.
The busser fills my water and I inhale him: his faraway scent of oranges.

Seventh grade, Southern California: we monitored the daily smog alerts.
Red: stay inside. White: play outside. I forget what warning orange is.

Clutch was serious about art and said our final projects could be
whatever . . . performative . . . like, just show up with a wheelbarrow full of
    oranges
.

Jan, in all of those first six years, why is all you can remember this:
the mist rising in the sunny air as you watched her peeling oranges.

Copyright © 2022 by Jan-Henry Gray. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 28, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“Often it starts with a bad idea that turns into a kind of dare: can you write a poem filled with rhymes for the word ‘oranges’? Then, there are the ideas that words rhyme with themselves and that repetition is itself the most perfect kind of rhyme. As a form, the ghazal provides a place for a word to become immersive—even hypnotic. I followed the images, letting the oranges remind me of different scenes made up of scraps of memory, some imagined, others conjured up.”
Jan-Henry Gray

Jan-Henry Gray
Jan-Henry Gray is a queer, Filipino American poet. The author of Documents (BOA Editions, 2019), among other titles, he is an assistant professor and director of the creative writing MFA program at Adelphi University. Gray lives in Brooklyn.

Documents
(BOA Editions, 2019)

“Why I Am Not a Painter” by Frank O’Hara
read more
“Smell Is the Last Memory to Go” by Fatimah Asghar
read more

Thanks to Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, author of Cenzontle (BOA Editions, 2018), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Castillo’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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