cover image American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

Terrance Hayes. Penguin, $18 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-14-313318-6

Hayes (How to Be Drawn) addresses this marvelous series of 70 free-verse sonnets to his potential assassin: a nameless, faceless embodiment of America’s penchant for racially motivated violence. The poems are redolent of Hayes’s signature rhythmic artistry and wordplay: “After death. Our warriors, weirdos, antiheroes, our sirs,/ Sires, our sighers, sidewinders & whiners, winos/ And wonders become dust.” Hayes mockingly refers to President Trump as “Mister Trumpet” and excoriates his fellow Americans for seeking “A leader whose metallic narcissism is a reflection/ Of your own.” He captures the existential dread of the first year of Trump’s presidency accurately, but also provides some whimsy for the weary, referring to the present time as “The umpteenth slump/ In our humming democracy, a bumble bureaucracy/ With teeny tiny wings too small for its rumpled,/ Dumpling of a body.” Hayes references a range of poetic precursors and sings the praises of numerous black cultural figures, including Langston Hughes, Jimi Hendrix, and Toni Morrison. An ode to James Baldwin describes the crease between his eyes as “a riverbed branching/ Into tributaries like lines of rapturous sentences/ Searching for a period.” Inventive as ever, Hayes confronts America’s myriad ills with unflinching candor, while leaving space for love, humor, and hope. (June)