What It Look Like


Dear Ol’ Dirty Bastard: I, too, like it raw,

I don’t especially care for Duke Ellington

at a birthday party. I care less and less

about the shapes of shapes because forms

change and nothing is more durable than feeling.

My uncle used the money I gave him

to buy a few vials of what looked like candy

after the party where my grandma sang

in an outfit that was obviously made

for a West African king. My motto is

Never mistake what it is for what it looks like.

My generosity, for example, is mostly a form

of vanity. A bandanna is a useful handkerchief,

but a handkerchief is a useless ass bandanna.

This only looks like a footnote in my report

concerning the party. Trill stands for what is

truly real though it may be hidden by the houses

just over the hills between us, by the hands

on the bars between us, by anyone who hopes

to rule without reflection. That picture

of my grandmother with my uncle

when he was a baby is not trill. What it is

is the feeling felt seeing garbage men drift

along the predawn avenues, a sloppy slow rain

taking its time to the coast. Milquetoast

is not trill, nor is bouillabaisse. Bakku-shan

is Japanese for a woman who is beautiful

only when viewed from behind. Like I was saying,

my motto is Never mistake what it looks like,

for what it is else you end up like that Negro

Othello. (Was Othello a Negro?) Don’t you lie

about who you are sometimes and then realize

the lie is true? Yes, all liars are cowards,

but we all have a little coward in us. Offstage,

Iago said what I have been trying to say.

You are blind to your power like the king

who wanders his kingdom searching for the king.

And that’s okay. No one will tell you you are

the king. No one really wants a king anyway.

Terrance Hayes is the author of Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award.

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Further Reading

 January 16

I lined up at MOMA for a close-up view of how the brutal business of global garment-making was to be cleaned up for aesthetic presentation.