A Small Novel
The protagonist spends the first twenty pages
crossing a bridge wearing nothing but red
swimming trunks and sneakers with no socks.
I can remember standing naked
outside my neighbor’s window at fourteen
when I read the paragraph about the placard of night
held up by pine trees.
Where ever there is a mention of solitude or desire
I think, without wanting to, of Race. Race
when the protagonist spends a page long sentence
trying to work free a knot of shoe string
in his basketball sneaker. Race
when he spends the hot seasons of his twenties
like a beggar with no mouth. Race
when he tells his wife: “There are no Open Houses
on Easter.” Late in the book he feels himself
becoming a shadow. On page 113 just as I reach
the final sentence about traffic like the sound of wind
like the sound of water, a horn yelps somewhere.
“It was all he’d ever known of rivers…”
I pencil L.H. in the margin. I think, without wanting to,
That they will find this book someday
and turn its muddy bosom all golden in the sunset.
On its blank last page I write the poem
“The Blue Langston” which begins:
“O Blood of the River songs, O songs of the River of Blood,”
and ends: “There was nothing I could do about Race.”
-- Terrance Hayes
from The Antioch Review, Winter 2004, v. 62, no.
and Wind in a Box (Penguin, 2006)
Note by Judith Hall
amalgamates so elegantly the fictive and the lyric; and by “elegant,” I mean,
etymologically, legible and then graceful.
It clearly, gracefully shows the act of reading as a defining act -- one
capable of altering despondency into a poem about despondency.
Hayes’ tone here is not entirely unlike Mark Strand’s comic angst in “Chekhov: A Sestina” -- another poem wherein a character contemplates what a characteristic act might be in both an unsympathetic world and a contestable form.
Langston Hughes, though, is the key predecessor, the Hughes of The Big Sea (1940) and The Weary Blues (1926) and the Hughes who wrote, “The mood of the Blues is almost always despondency, but when they are sung people laugh.” Let a young man’s “novel” leave the hard laughs to elders, if it shines by despondency alone. Yes?