National Book Award-Winning Poet Hayes Reads From ‘Lighthead’

November 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Terrance Hayes, a poet and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, won the National Book Award earlier this week. Here, he reads a poem from his award-winning volume called "Lighthead."

JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally tonight: a poet who earlier this week won the National Book Award.

Terrance Hayes is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. His award-winning volume is titled “Lighthead.”

Earlier this evening, he read a poem from that collection for us from a studio in Pittsburgh.

TERRANCE HAYES, 2010 National Book Award Winner: This is a poem I wrote in response to Hurricane Katrina, “Fish Head for Katrina.”

“The mouth is where the dead

Who are not dead do not dream

A house of damaged translations

Task married to distraction

As in a bucket left in a storm

A choir singing in the rain like fish

Acquiring air underwater

Prayer and sin the body

Performs to know it is alive

Lit from the inside by reckoning

As in a city

Which is no longer a city

The tongue reaching down a tunnel

And the teeth wet as windows

Set along the highway

Where the dead live in the noise

Of their shotgun houses

They drift from their wards

Like fish spreading thin as a song

Diminished by its own opening

Split by faith and soaked in it

The mouth is a flooded machine