Today’s Thoughtful Thursday presents the work of award-winning poet Terrance Hayes. Born in 1971 in Columbia, South Carolina, Hayes received a BA from Coker College and an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Lighthead”, his collection of poems published in 2010, won a National Book Award, and Hayes received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2014.
Hayes regularly addresses themes of popular culture, race, music, and masculinity in his poems. Poet Cornelius Eady describes the magic of discovering Hayes’ work: “First you’ll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you’ll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world.”
Hayes writes “grown folks” poetry, best shared with your older sons. It is important for them (and for us all) to know about this talented brother’s work. This work is certainly worth sharing, as his poems powerfully transport you to where he is, wherever he is, and you are the better for having been there. Enjoy.
After I have parked below the spray paint caked in the granite
grooves of the Fredrick Douglass Middle School sign
where men and women sized children loiter like shadows
draped in the outsized denim, jerseys, bangles, braids, and boots
that mean I am no longer young, after I have made my way
to the New Orleans Parish Jail down the block
where the black prison guard wearing the same weariness
my prison guard father wears buzzes me in,
I follow his pistol and shield along each corridor trying not to look
at the black men boxed and bunked around me
until I reach the tiny classroom where two dozen black boys are
dressed in jumpsuits orange as the pond full of carp I saw once in Japan,
so many fat snaggle-toothed fish ganged in and lurching for food
that a lightweight tourist could have crossed the pond on their backs
so long as he had tiny rice balls or bread to drop into the water
below his footsteps which I’m thinking is how Jesus must have walked
on the lake that day, the crackers and wafer crumbs falling
from the folds of his robe, and how maybe it was the one fish
so hungry it leapt up his sleeve that he later miraculously changed
into a narrow loaf of bread, something that could stick to a believer’s ribs,
and don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer too, in the power of food at least,
having seen a footbridge of carp packed gill to gill, packed tighter
than a room of boy prisoners waiting to talk poetry with a young black poet,
packed so close they might have eaten each other had there been nothing else to eat.
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.
Now that my afro’s as big as Shaft’s
I feel a little better about myself.
How it warms my bullet-head in Winter,
black halo, frizzy hat of hair.
Shaft knew what a crown his was,
an orb compared to the bush
on the woman sleeping next to him.
(There was always a woman
sleeping next to him. I keep thinking,
If I’d only talk to strangers. . .
grow a more perfect head of hair.)
His afro was a crown.
Bullet after barreling bullet,
fist-fights & car chases,
three movies & a brief TV series,
never one muffled strand,
never dampened by sweat–
I sweat in even the least heroic of situations.
I’m sure you won’t believe this,
but if a policeman walks behind me, I tremble:
What would Shaft do? What would Shaft do?
Bits of my courage flake away like dandruff.
I’m sweating even as I tell you this,
I’m not cool,
I keep the real me tucked beneath a wig,
I’m a small American frog.
I grow beautiful as the theatre dims.