Published on Academy of American Poets (

Muscular Fantasy

For October

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.

About this Poem

“This is one of a series of poems I wrote over last year. I can tell you this one was probably written in October. And the title, like the titles of the other quatrains, is taken from the title of a composition by pianist Erik Satie. I have never heard this particular song 'Muscular Fantasy.'”
Terrance Hayes


Terrance Hayes

The 2010 winner of the National Book Award in poetry, Terrance Hayes is the author of seven poetry collections. He currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.

Date Published: 2021-05-25

Source URL: