Weekly Poem: ‘Fish Head for Katrina’

By Terrance Hayes

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 under water
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 a 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


Terrance Hayes, a creative writing professor at Carnegie Mellon, received the National Book Award for poetry for his collection, “Lighthead.” The PBS NewsHour profiled Hayes in 2008. You can hear Hayes reading some of his older poems here at our Poetry Series.