Democracy Is Dying by Terrance Hayes

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


Miss America, Miss World, or Miss Universe:
Kill, Fuck, or Marry? You can call it “Do, Die,
or Date.” It’s a game that always begins

with swallowing a few names. Johnny Walker,
Jack Daniels, or Jim Beam. Jesus, Buddha,
or Mohammed. Hitler, Stalin, or Mussolini:

who would you kill, who would you fuck,
who would you marry? You can call it “Clobber,
Coax or Colonize.” How much do you cost?

How much do you value? You are surrounded
by someone with black eyes, someone
with red eyes, and someone blind.

“Butcher, Pillage, or Populate.” You can call it
“I came, I saw, I conquered” or “I came, I saw,
God conquered.” You can call it “Bless,

Barricade or Bury.” Are you attached
to anything? What do you want to possess,
what do you want to give, what do you want

to annihilate? You have to choose something:
a rock, a flame, a flag attached to a spear.
Who to slaughter, who to sing to, who to slide into

or have slide into you. You are surrounded
by oceans, you are surrounded by trees
and policelight somewhere between dream

and mourning in a strange valley.
What will you abandon to live, how will you
change, where will you go, what will you undertake?


Terrance Hayes is the author of Lighthead (Penguin, 2010), which won the National Book Award for Poetry; Wind in a Box (2006); Hip Logic (2002), which won the 2001 National Poetry Series and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Muscular Music (1999), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

He has received many honors and awards, including a Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Guggenheim Foundation. Terrance is a professor of creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his family.

Photo by Yona Harvey

Photo by Yona Harvey