The Kafka Virus vs (Thursday)

Terrance Hayes
Photograph by Samuel Perez on Unsplash

The madness of each ordinary day versus

the language of someone raised by history

versus someone raised by a virgin.

I’m mostly interested in the devil’s story,


because I know there’s some devil in me.

I still live like someone somewhere

will clean the vents of my home anatomy,

but I am the only one who lives here.


According to Memphis Slim what looks like singing

has its roots in slaves’ casting shade

on oppressors, a cotton field stooped weeping

jeremiads of sweat. Marlon Brando’s snake-


skin jacket in The Fugitive Kind cursed Marlon

Brando’s leather jacket in The Wild One

so that Brando himself became a black person

on opposite sides of a mirror calling each other Demon.


I am a man named your father’s name

or I am the heroin flower vendor

vending stolen flowers in the park. I am

Ambrose Black-Blake, The Butcher,


or Ebenezer Nebuchadnezzar, the Lying King.

Or a man who thinks winning is

the whole point of everything

while losing highlights loss.


I am known, when entangled in

great and minor trouble, to berate

my own damn self. You find every kind

of human being human in every way every day.


If you are the only person to observe

a particular trait in yourself, how trustworthy

is the observation? People who have

been loved poorly may or may not be cursed


to love poorly. You know how you don’t know

how to describe your own face

without looking in the mirror? You know

how you never can tell a curse from a bad day?


That intermittent chirping coming

from somewhere in the house is a smoke

alarm’s dying battery not a canary. Growing

is never not a part of being grown. Most


big decisions are made without me and you

everyday too. I’m just so accustomed

to adjusting to everything. How often must I tell you

I was born to a 16-year-old black girl who had


three siblings with different fathers

in the projects of South Carolina in

1971, after a neighbor raped her?

If there is no solution


a problem is not a real problem by

definition. When my mother’s grandmother

was alive,

she lived on the dark potions of a beautician


with a mouth full of hairpins,

and an enchanted freehand

above the minds of ladies looking

to feel more lovely beneath their lovers’ hands.


Like her ambidextrous

skinny silver scissors refining

the edges of her extra-large extra

magic touch, my hands are made for beautiful things.

Terrance Hayes’s recent publications include American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin and To Float in the Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight. Two collections, So to Speak: Poems and Sow to Speak: Creative Essays, are forthcoming in 2023. He is a professor of English at New York University.