Prof. Van Jordan
September 24, 2018
A Contemporary Black Hole: My Past and Future Assassin
“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison/ Part Panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame” (11: 1-2), begins one of the poems in American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. Assassination is an extended metaphor Terrance Hayes uses throughout the collection; the speaker names assassins literally in “I pour a pinch of serious poison for you” (12), metaphorically talks of his own assassination in “The earth of my nigga eyes are assassinated” (17) and describes the continual restlessness and lamentation “the assassin” makes him feel in “I remember my sister’s last hoorah” (81). Knowing that the collection is written in a time of political unrest, it becomes evident that the assassin is inseparable from racism, and the emotional outpour of the speaker is strengthened with each mention of “assassin” throughout the sonnets. The present lives in fear of the assassin, a threat that haunts from the past and seems to continue into the future.
The assassins from black history is damned with “a pinch of serious poison” (12: 1) and “the opposite prayer” of their own poison (12: 9). Appearing early on in the collection, these assassins are apparent in meaning— cold-blooded murderers. Since Hayes writes the sonnets in free verse, the position of the volta is less restrained. The 11th line is a plausible candidate as the subject switches from the assassin to the authority granting them the platform to kill:
Love trumps power or blood to trump power
Beauty trumps power or blood to trump power
Justice trumps power or blood to trump power
The names alive are like the names in the graves (12: 11-14)
“Trump” may be an obvious reference to the presidential figure, but the word itself also implies a higher power as in a card game, where the trump card is a hidden resource that players can manipulate to gain advantage over their opponents. The poem says “love, beauty and justice” is above power—either that, or they lose to the trump power in blood. These three lines in the structure A or B, written in the present tense, point directly to the racial dichotomies in society today. If love or justice can’t win over authority, blood will be shed and the names alive will be threatened. This fear is resonated on a personal level in the lines of the following sonnet:
The earth of my nigga eyes are assassinated.
The deep well of my nigga throat is assassinated. (17: 1-2)
The speaker describes his various body parts being assassinated. A vivid imagery of a tortured man emerges, one that is closely associated with the slavery period. “Assassinate” appears a maximum of 8 times in this sonnet. The subject is explicitly introduced in the previous sonnet, and here it appears as a verb as the speaker describes the assassin in action. It is unclear if “you” is still referring to the authority, or the collective power of racism, but the fear is...