Terrance Hayes
Arbor for Butch

                                a pecha kucha after Martin Puryear 

I am with my newborn son and the man blood says is my father 
in a shit motel and if each of us is, as I sometimes believe, 
the room we inhabit, he is a bed used until it’s stained. 
Even if I knew this first meeting was our last, I would 
have nothing to offer beyond the life I have made without him. 

In the far south where history shades everything, 
there are people who fear trees. I once heard an old man say 
I may be black as a crow but I’m white inside. 
Nowhere else does the sky do what the sky does there 
where the graves are filled with dirt the color of fire. 

We drank whiskey until we were drunk as the couple in the photo 
my mother gave me to show him, the boy and girl swaying 
at the edge of my future. I watched my father curl on the bed 
like a leaf drained of its greening as my child cried 
the way rain cries when it is changed to steam. 

Because I believe the tree is a symbol of everything, 
one of us was the bough reaching across the road as fumes 
scorch its leaves. One of us was a door opening and closing 
in the darkness, one of us was a boat being carried downstream. 

My father and I sat in a motel room beside a highway 
Where his pickup was the shade of a bruise beneath the glow 
of the vacancy sign. Where he and his talk began 
to evaporate. We were two fathers watching the faces 
of two sons where the evening passed as it arrived. 

Where the rain comes, long toed and crushing the high grass, 
swamping the land, where a slave talked his children 
out of running away with the bottom of his shoe. 
This is what it means to believe in ascension and fear climbing.

In the far south where sap jewels the bark, the teeth 
of the saws are sticky and bittersweet. But I wanted to carve 
a door out of the wood and around that door I wanted 
to build a room because I knew what my mother wished for 
and I knew from far off what she would need. 

The arm of the boy falls around the girl heavy as a branch 
in the photograph with the gloss that’s been rubbed 
clean and the blurred inscription which nearly delivers 
its message before vanishing. I drove the long night 
to see the face my son and I wear like a mask. 

Where history can be a downpour of joy or guilt spilling 
its wronged headed desire all over the body. Where 
a boy and girl fought in a motel bed to make me, one desire 
beating against another. Where my mother seemed to blur 
calling him her first lover even after she said she was raped. 

In the far south my father, the first time I met him 
where for that night and the next one, he’d sleep, 
said God made nothing sweeter than pussy. We smoked 
our history, we drank to our future until each of us was 
a head of steam, clouds above each other’s dreams. 

Where the plan was when I saw him to cut off his hands. 
Where because of this man my mother would want me 
dead, would want no limbs to branch inside her, 
no cluster of sound waiting in a drum. Where 
she wanted to, but could not shape her want into an ax. 

Sometimes my body is a guitar, a hole waiting in wood, wires 
trembling to sleep. To identify what you are, to be loved by what 
you identify, I thought This is how the blood sings into the self. 
I thought what was hollow in me would be shaped into music. 

The first time I met my father I believed I would understand 
the line connecting me to him because a man rooted to his kin 
can never be a slave. But he was like the road, skid marked 
and distant, like the rain breaking above ground and beating into it. 

In the far south where as one man swung from the limb 
Of a tree, he said I may be as black as this bark 
but my heart is light. Where even when your lantern burns 
out, they say the flame lasts. Where everyone I know 
is ablaze with this story and darkened by its ash. 

Certain arrangements must be made 
if you want access to the past. With his room 
without rooms and his truck without gas, 
my father was a nail bent in the shaft of a hammer, 
a wound the length of a kiss, a mouth bled of its power.

I am with the ones the blood says are mine and if each of us is 
as I sometimes believe, little more than a bray of nostalgia, 
we are like the village mule chained to its muling. My father 
fit a slim ragged hand over the head of my newborn son 
and said he sounds like a white child crying like that. 

What if blackness is a fad? Dear Negritude, I live as you live 
waiting to be better than I am. Before sleep last night I thought 
how it would be to awaken with all the colors of this world 
turned inside out. And that was the name of my suffering. 

The story my father told me did not reveal one body inside 
another, the arms of the boy who would become my father 
embracing the girl who would become my mother, it did not hold 
the sentence rooted to the beginning of my life.

I am not doing anything now, except waiting like the bird 
who uses the bones and feathers of other birds to build 
its nest. I am on my bed of leaves thinking about the past, 
how my father dragged his shadow across the room 
the way a storm drags its rain. 
(stanza break) 

Where there were too many trees and too many names 
etched into the trunks, where the knots in the wood 
Were the scars of old limbs, where, to be reborn, the birch pine 
must be set aflame, where the door if I opened it might have 
Revealed the love making or abuse still waiting to be named.

Found In Volume 38, No. 06
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  • terrance hayes photo by emmai alaquiva
Terrance Hayes
About the Author
Terrance Hayes is the author of LightheadWind In a BoxHip Logic, and Muscular MusicHow To Be Drawn is his most recent collection of poems.