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About this Poem 

“Prime thanks to poet Anthony Butts who, many years ago, told me he was writing a book called Male Hysteria. Unforgettable title. Maybe I’m not remembering it correctly. This sonnet is one lanky sentence and several clanging fragments. It’s both dream and memory; ode to high-tops, criminal elegy, testimony, fantasy. It’s crystal clear to me and totally hazy.”
Terrance Hayes

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [But there never was a black male hysteria]

But there never was a black male hysteria
Breaking & entering wearing glee & sadness
And the light grazing my teeth with my lighter
To the night with the flame like a blade cutting
Me slack along the corridors with doors of offices
Orifices vomiting tears & fire with my two tongues
Loose & shooing under a high-top of language
In a layer of mischief so traumatized trauma
Delighted me beneath the tremendous
Stupendous horrendous undiscovered stars
Burning where I didn’t know how to live
My friends were all the wounded people
The black girls who held their own hands
Even the white boys who grew into assassins 
 

Copyright © 2017 by Terrance Hayes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Terrance Hayes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes

The 2010 winner of the National Book Award in poetry, Terrance Hayes is the author of five poetry collections. He currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I'd better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no
poem

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

poem
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