Terrance Hayes, “How to Draw an Invisible Man” (2015)

And then when Ralph Ellison’s corpse burst

open, I discovered his body had been hoarding

all these years a luscious slush, a sludge

of arterial words, the raw and unsaid pages

with their plots and propositions, with their arcs

of intention and babbling, with their mumbling

streams and false starts and their love

and misanthropic thrusts, tendons of syntax

unraveled from his bones and intestinal cavities,

the froth of singing, stinging, stinking ink,

reams of script fraught with the demons,

demagogues and demigods of democracy,

demographies of vague landscapes,

passages describing muddy river bottoms

and elaborate protagonists crawling

through a foliage greener than money in America

before America thought to release anyone

from its dream, the water-logged monologues

one who is unseen speaks burst suddenly

from Ralph Ellison’s body and because I mean to live

transparently, I am here, bear with me,

describing the contents: the fictions envisioned

by Emerson and immigrants, the dogmas,

aboriginal progeny, scholastic recriminations,

dementia, jubilee, hubris in Ralph Ellison,

Duke Ellington’s shadow, a paragraph

on the feathered headdress of Marcus Garvey,

some of it was pornography, some of it alluded

to Negros who believe educating black kids

means teaching them to help white people feel

comfortable, some of it outlined the perks

of invisibility, how we are obliged to eschew

the zoo, the farm animals, it had something

to do with captivity, flayed in the clinical light

the notes printed on the underside of his flesh

were reversed but readable mirrored in the metal

of the medical table and I wanted to print it all

properly in a posthumous book in the name

of prosperity and proof the genius we believed

he’d wasted had been waiting all these years

for a simple death sentence to break free.

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