The Blue Terrance (Terrance Hayes)

March 19, 2009

If you subtract the minor losses,
you can return to your childhood too:
the blackboard chalked with crosses,

the math teacher’s toe ring. You
can be the black boy not even the buck-
toothed girls took a liking to:

the match box, these bones in their funk
machine, this thumb worn smooth
as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.

Thump. Everything I hold takes root.
I remember what the world was like before
I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,

and the lyrics asking: How long has your door
been closed? I remember a garter belt wrung
like a snake around a thigh in the shadows

of a wedding gown before it was flung
out into the bluest part of the night.
Suppose you were nothing but a song

in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe
sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,
but all you owned was a dirty rag? That’s why

the blues will never go out of fashion:
their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of
consequence; that’s why when they call, Boy, you’re in

trouble. Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you’re a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon. I love

watching the sky regret nothing but its
self, though only my lover knows it to be so,
and only after watching me sit

and stare off past Heaven. I love the word No
for its prudence, but I love the romantic
who submits finally to sex in a burning row-

house more. That’s why nothing’s more romantic
than working your teeth through
the muscle. Nothing’s more romantic

than the way good love can take leave of you.
That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.

*

One of the great gifts black poets give to us is their long acquaintence with the blues. Not that being black grants some kind of special access the rest of us are denied, but rather black poets recognize in the blues a passageway out of a certain poetic propriety. As the blues does homage to our helplessness before Love, it can also strip away the need for poetic artifice. It is this recognition that allows Hayes to repeat the word “romantic” three times in five lines–a veritable sin in contemporary poetry. For as much as a poem might dress up love in fine ornaments, Love can also strip us down to bone. When the poem’s speaker says he’s “doggone lonesome, Baby,” we believe him, and grant him permission to honor a tired word.

[“The Blue Terrance” can be found in Wind in a Box from Penguin Books.]

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