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  • A House Is Not a Home
  • Terrance Hayes (bio)

The night I embraced Ron's wife a bit too long because he'd refused to kiss me goodbye, I realized the essential nature of sound. When she slapped me across one ear, and he punched me in the other, I recalled, almost instantly, the purr of liquor sliding along the neck of the bottle hours earlier as the three of us took turns imitating the croon of the recently deceased, Luther Vandross. I decided then, even as my ears fattened, to seek employment at the African-American Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute, where probably there is a whole file devoted to Luther Vandross. And probably it contains the phone call he made once to ask a niece the whereabouts of his very first piano. I already know there is a difference between hearing and listening, but to get the job, I bet I will have to learn how to transcribe church fires or how to categorize the dozen or so variations of gasping, one of which likely, includes Ron and me in the eighth grade the time a neighbor flashed her breasts at us. That night at Ron's house I believed he, his wife, and Luther loved me more than anything I could grasp. "I can't believe you won't kiss me, you're the gayest man I know!" I told him just before shackling my arms around his wife. "My job is all about context," I will tell friends when they ask. "I love it, though most days all I do is root through noise like a termite with a number on his back." What will I steal? Rain falling on a picket sign, breathy epithets— you think I'm bullshitting. When you have no music, everything becomes a form of music. I bet [End Page 985] somewhere in Mississippi there is a skull that only a sharecropper's daughter can make sing. I'll steal that sound. More than anything, I want to work at the African-American Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute so that I can record the rumors and raucous rhythms of my people, our jangled history, the slander in our sugar, the ardor in our anger, a subcategory of which probably includes the sound particular to one returning to his feet after a friend has knocked him down.

Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes is an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He is author of two volumes of poems, Muscular Music and Hip Logic, which won a number of awards and prizes, including the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the National Poetry Series, and the Whiting Writers Award. Wind in a Box is his third volume of poems.