Terrance Hayes

The Blue Etheridge

Dear Parole Board of the Perennial Now,

let me begin by saying it’s very likely

none of my ex-wives will vouch for me.

Let’s just say the parable

of the Negro who uses his dick for a cane

and the parable of the Negro who uses his cane

for a dick convey the same message to me.

I’m sorry. You mean before that? 

Well, it’s as if some ghost the height

of my granddaddy was lighting a cigarette

the wrong way to symbolize my muddy path

through life. You ever seen the Mississippi?

You’ll learn all you need to know

if you look at the wall of my kinfolk’s pictures.

Belzora Knight Taylor. BuShie.

Janice. Eunice. Clyneese. Me

and my brothers fishing in high waters.

Whenever I see brown hills and red gullies,

I remember what the world was like

before I twisted spoons over flames.

I pissed from a bridge the day I left.

Yes Sir, I’ve changed, I’ve changed.

But I won’t be telling you the story

of the forlorn Negro or the Negro cutthroat

or the Negro Hero or the Negro Tom.

I won’t be telling you the story of the night

I died. I believe everything comes back

to music or money. Belly Song.

Song of the twelve fingered fix.

Song of The Gemini Women.  I know I’m cursed.

I sang out to the Baptists I saw gathered

on the riverbank the day I left. I sang out

to the reeds straight as tongues and the salmon

in the waters of my people, and beyond that

to my barrel-backed shadow damming the stream.



“The Blue Etheridge” is from Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006)