“Homage To Gertrude Badu,” A Poem by Terrance Hayes

From the Collection So to Speak

July 19, 2023  By Terrance Hayes

If your momma was fine as half a bottle of honey wine,
Or your daddy cool as a coin tossed in a wishing well,
Well, yeah she might compliment your style,

But more often than not her eyeglasses was tuned
To whatever she was illegally spray-painting on the war streets.

If Clay & Lula from Amiri Baraka’s 1964 play Dutchman
Had a baby—I mean if Lula & the white folks hadn’t killed

Brother Clay—what do I suppose would have been the first
And middle name of their baby? This is what she asked
Before signing my yearbook so no telling what she felt for me.

Her shoes? I think they called them moon or maybe miner’s boots.
Once when she stooped to blow smoke into the mouth
Of a neighbor’s pit bull, I saw the glitter on her G-string.

Her & the pigtailed cashier from the corner store
Stole the preacher’s two-pound Bible.
She spoke nothing but verbs & sighs to priests.

Her & a girl with a head of freckles broke into the Mickey D,
The Joann Fabric, the back rub parlor & left the goods
On the lawn of our retired high school principal.

You know what you call someone who wins by cheating?
She asked me later that day: A winner.
No one lives in adult movies, she used to say.

If I recited all the laws of the Gnostics,
She promised to kiss me in some mysterious way
On some even more mysterious part of my longing.

She told me trombone was always the word of the day.
Also: Anytime one finds oneself facing oneself in a mirror
One must say to the mirror, “You don’t know shit about me.”
She used to say you can’t be free trapped in a body.


From So to Speak by Terrance Hayes. Copyright © 2023. Published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Terrance Hayes
Terrance Hayes
Terrance Hayes is the author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, winner of the 2019 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award. His other poetry collections are So to Speak, How to Be Drawn, Wind in a Box, Hip Logic, and Muscular Music. He is also the author of To Float in the Space Between: A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight, winner of the 2019 Poetry Foundation Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. Hayes lives in New York City, where he is a professor of creative writing at New York University

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