I was thinking about that museum
with just the one painted stamp people
pay big money to stare at minimum
an hour at a time by a painter of people
who have been old for a very long time.
Sarah Beth Bess of Peducah, Old Walter Thom
outside Paris Island, the most senior clients
of most of the low country senior homes.
There used to be a country where no sad
songs were allowed out loud because
making the king blue was outlawed.
The girl falling down the well sang without pause
as she fell. People described it as gospel.
The boy in the well sang as well as a small bell
& the people said it sounded like babble.
Rising in life-like detail from the middle
of the stamp sized painting is an ornate mountain.
My people moved further south to the beaches
instead of moving north after reconstruction.
“Blessed,” my father said when I asked if he’d
rather be blessed or lucky. Soda in a can taste better
than soda in a bottle but beer in a bottle
taste better than beer in a can. It’s better
plus less stressful to think the best of people.
The worst thing about scared people
is they go around scaring other people.
Who you are with your mamma, People,
is not who you are with other people.
The color of my mother’s thumbs up emoji
is unchanged either because she’s not estranged
by such things or because she doesn’t know
the shade of her thumb can be changed.
The painter can be seen painting a small
painting through the window of a modestly
decorated cabin on the mountain. With all
the people who clap when some mostly
vengeful violence happens in the movie,
those who do not clap may feel no other people
are not clapping. I hear you. It seems
reasonable to stare at a painting for at least
as long as it takes the painter to make it
& also reasonable to stare for approximately
as long as it takes the sun to rise & set.
I told my father being blessed was vaguely
more dependent on the whims of God.
I’d rather be lucky. The girl in the well
was put there in the name of god
by farming people. The boy fell.
Copyright © 2021 by Terrance Hayes. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.