Terrance Hayes: Poetry Poem Text

Terrance Hayes: Poetry Poem Text

The Golden Shovel

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we

cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.

His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we

drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left

in them but approachlessness. This is a school

I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we

are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk

of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.

Standing in the middle of the street last night we

watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike

his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight

Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we

used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing

his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.

The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We

watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.

He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.

He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We

stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,

how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June

the boy would be locked upstate. That night we

got down on our knees in my room. If I should die

before I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.

II. 1991

Into the tented city we go, we-

akened by the fire’s ethereal

afterglow. Born lost and cool-

er than heartache. What we

know is what we know. The left

hand severed and school-

ed by cleverness. A plate of we-

ekdays cooking. The hour lurk-

ing in the afterglow. A late-

night chant. Into the city we

go. Close your eyes and strike

a blow. Light can be straight-

ened by its shadow. What we

break is what we hold. A sing-

ular blue note. An outcry sin-

ged exiting the throat. We

push until we thin, thin-

king we won’t creep back again.

While God licks his kin, we

sing until our blood is jazz,

we swing from June to June.

We sweat to keep from we-

eping. Groomed on a die-

t of hunger, we end too soon.

New Folk

I said Folk was dressed in Blues but hairier and hemped.

After "We acoustic banjo disciples!" Jebediah said, "When

and whereforth shall the bucolic blacks with good tempers

come to see us pluck as Elizabeth Cotton intended?"

We stole my Uncle Windchime's minivan, penned a simple

ballad about the drag of lovelessness and drove the end

of the chitlin' circuit to a joint skinny as a walk-in temple

where our new folk was not that new, but strengthened

by our twelve bar conviction. A month later, in pulled

a parade of well meaning alabaster post adolescents.

We noticed the sand-tanned and braless ones piled

in the ladder-backed front row with their boyfriends

first because beneath our twangor slept what I'll call

a hunger for the outlawable. One night J asked me when

sisters like Chapman would arrive. I shook my chin wool

then, and placed my hand over the guitar string's wind-

ow til it stilled. "When the moon's black," I said. "Be faithful."

Ode to Big Trend

Pretty soon the Negroes were looking to get paid.

My partner, Big Trend, wiped his ox neck and said

He wasn't going to wait too much longer. You

Know that look your daddy gets before he whups you?

That's how Big Trend looked. There was a pink scar

Meddling his forehead. Most people assumed a bear

Like him couldn't read anything but a dollar,

But I'd watched him tour the used bookstore

In town and seen him napping so I knew he held more

Than power in those hands. They could tear

A Bible in two. Sometimes on the walk home I'd hear

Him reciting poems. But come Friday, he was the one

The fellas asked to speak to the boss. He'd go alone,

Usually, and left behind, we imagined the boss buckled

Into Trend's shadow because our money always followed.

Stick Elegy

The dead were still singing Turn the lights down low

Beneath Yellow Bridge where years before, clowning

And ass out, Stick jumped with nothing but the State

Championship trophy in his righteous clutch. The water

Was supposed to be deepest there, and for three seasons

Straight MVPs: Charlie "Fly" Kennison, Long Timmy Long,

And Rocket Jefferson, those are the names I knew, jumped

Free. But Stick's ankle broke. I fished him out, crumpled

And bawling like the day he was born, like an object of

Baptism, and a life of bad luck followed in the shape of

Floods and fractured lightning, and then, numb, tooth-

Less, and changed, the dead refused burial, striking out, 2

By 2, 4 by 4, from the morgue house to raise trouble at

The bridge. I started hearing birds everywhere after that.

Cocktails with Orpheus

After dark, the bar full of women part of me loves—the part that stood

naked outside the window of Miss Geneva, recent divorcée who owned

a gun, O Miss Geneva where are you now—Orpheus says she did

not perish, she was not turned to ash in the brutal light, she found

a good job, she made good money, she had her own insurance and

a house, she was a decent wife. I know descent lives in the word

decent. The bar noise makes a kind of silence. When Orpheus hands

me his sunglasses, I see how fire changes everything. In the mind

I am behind a woman whose skirt is hiked above her hips, as bound

as touch permits, saying don't forget me when I become the liquid

out of which names are born, salt-milk, milk-sweet and animal-made.

I want to be a human above the body, uprooted and right, a fold

of pleas released, but I am a black wound, what's left of the deed.

Mystic Bounce

Even if you love the racket of ascension,

you must know how the power leaves you.

And at this pitch who has time for meditation?

the sea walled in by buildings. I do miss

the quiet, don't you? When I said, "Fuck the deer

antlered and hithered in fur," it was because

I had seen the faces of presidents balled into a fist.

If I were in charge, I would know how to fix

the world: free health care or free physicals,

at least, and an abiding love for the abstract.

When I said, "All of history is saved for us,"

it was because I scorned the emancipated sky.

Does the anthem choke you up? When I asked

God if anyone born to slaves would die

a slave, He said: "Sure as a rock descending

a hillside." That's why I'm not a Christian.

- Terrance Hayes

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