Terrance Hayes

Woman Walking on the Road

We were in the car. We were heading home when Christian

with his wholly American name & manic chatter told his girlfriend

the woman we saw walking on the road with no umbrella

was a symbol of torment.We were in the backseat–

you with that face making the windows & the black world

beyond the windows beautiful, the roadside figure of a woman

in the rain beautiful & I knew later I’d be writing these lines,

caught in that space between personal & public:

a woman’s torment or symbol of it & our love & goddamn

everybody’s sins scribbled here for show. We were in the car

heading home when Christian said the woman on the road

was probably fresh from a fight with her husband,

but he didn’t say his fists gave his last girlfriend bruises

& I didn’t say it either… The woman was walking alone

on the shoulder & meant something different & utterly the same

to each of us– her lit up life & husband left looking

from a window, as I have looked from a window, guilty.

But Guilt ain’t nobody’s business. We were in the car, we saw

a woman walking on the road. There was a woman who,

after our quarrels, would steal my car, a little blue Datsun

with a dented fender. She’d drive from our dorm to the blank streets

of the town we lived in; she’d drive past the empty classrooms,

the soccer field, to God knows where & I wanted her, then,

away from me– two red lights, a tired engine leaving smoke.

But one night I groped in the darkness beneathe my hood

until I disconnected something & if there is such a thing as malice,

that was it– a man sabotaging his own car so his lover couldn’t run…

I’m shaking my head because I want to say I’m different now,

like Christian– someone with a new face beside him & a pain

no one can see, perhaps, settled in his chest. Your new face

beside me. I am damaged, I have bruised. We fought over something

stupid & she came so close I knew she could smell my blood.

Have I come far enough to say I hit her; to say my hand left a cloud

on her cheek? Have I come far enough to say, I’m sorry? We were

in the car, you with that face making the windows & the world

beyond the windows real; the figure of a woman on the road

telling the truth. Once in my small brutal past a woman left me,

walked from my lit up fingers to the street with a storm on her face.

It was raining. I watched from the window & could not follow,

my car sat in the lot disconnected, unopened, unmoved.



“Woman Walking on the Road” is from Muscular Music (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2005, Tia Chucha Press 1999).