Emergence Magazine

Artwork by James Lee Chiahan

To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian

by Ross Gay


Ross Gay is the author of four books of poetry, including Be Holding, winner of the PEN / Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and Inciting Joy. His most recent collection of essays is The Book of (More) Delights.


James Lee Chiahan is a Taiwanese-Canadian artist and graphic designer. He is interested in creating images that recall moments in everyday life that are deeply affecting but difficult to explain. His clients include The Marshall Project, The California Sunday, and The On Being Project. He is currently based in Montreal, Canada.


Tumbling through the

city in my

mind without once

looking up

the racket in

the lugwork probably

rehearsing some

stupid thing I

said or did

some crime or

other the city they

say is a lonely

place until yes

the sound of sweeping

and a woman

yes with a

broom beneath

which you are now

too the canopy

of a fig its

arms pulling the

September sun to it

and she

has a hose too

and so works hard

rinsing and scrubbing

the walk

lest some poor sod

slip on the

silk of a fig

and break his hip

and not probably

reach over to gobble up

the perpetrator

the light catches

the veins in her hands

when I ask about

the tree they

flutter in the air and

she says take

as much as

you can

help me

so I load my

pockets and mouth

and she points

to the step-ladder against

the wall to

mean more but

I was without a

sack so my meager

plunder would have to

suffice and an old woman

whom gravity

was pulling into

the earth loosed one

from a low slung

branch and its eye

wept like hers

which she dabbed

with a kerchief as she

cleaved the fig with

what remained of her

teeth and soon there were

eight or nine

people gathered beneath

the tree looking into

it like a

constellation pointing

do you see it

and I am tall and so

good for these things

and a bald man even

told me so

when I grabbed three

or four for

him reaching into the

giddy throngs of

yellow-jackets sugar

stoned which he only

pointed to smiling and

rubbing his stomach

I mean he was really rubbing his stomach

like there was a baby

in there

it was hot his

head shone while he

offered recipes to the

group using words which

I couldn’t understand and besides

I was a little

tipsy on the dance

of the velvety heart rolling

in my mouth

pulling me down and

down into the

oldest countries of my

body where I ate my first fig

from the hand of a man who escaped his country

by swimming through the night

and maybe

never said more than

five words to me

at once but gave me

figs and a man on his way

to work hops twice

to reach at last his

fig which he smiles at and calls

baby, c’mere baby,

he says and blows a kiss

to the tree which everyone knows

cannot grow this far north

being Mediterranean

and favoring the rocky, sun-baked soils

of Jordan and Sicily

but no one told the fig tree

or the immigrants

there is a way

the fig tree grows

in groves it wants,

it seems, to hold us,

yes I am anthropomorphizing

goddammit I have twice

in the last thirty seconds

rubbed my sweaty

forearm into someone else’s

sweaty shoulder

gleeful eating out of each other’s hands

on Christian St.

in Philadelphia a city like most

which has murdered its own


this is true

we are feeding each other

from a tree

at the corner of Christian and 9th

strangers maybe

never again.



Ross Gay, “To the Fig Tree on 9th and Christian” from Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Read More Stories from Shifting Landscapes

Step further into the changes enveloping us with Vol 4. Shifting Landscapes. The voices gathered here bear witness to the Earth’s changing face and offer ways to orient ourselves in this time of great loss, possibility, and transformation. Spanning 275 pages, this issue is our most photographic to date and includes a special practice insert.

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