Two American Sonnets Starring Octavia Butler

Two American Sonnets Starring Octavia Butler

Terrance Hayes
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In Julie Dash’s Octavia Butler the director washes Octavia’s 

Monumental feet & toenails in buckets of government water

When there are no seas or rivers handy. It takes too long 

Awaiting God’s drizzle though there are open barrels outside 

The camera’s frame in the scene where Butler lies outdoors

Letting her entire mouth fill with tap-water, then spitting the water 

Into the air as rain blessed & better after the taste of her speech.  

If you don’t see suffering’s potential as art, will it remain suffering? 

When Butler tells Dash she’s dreamed of storms all week, 

Dash asks to film the dreams. The camera watches Butler sleep 

A full moon humming something in the same baritone she uses 

When she speaks. Of course, Octavia Butler stars in Octavia Butler

She buys blouses with patterns of leaves & flowers in the off hours 

And listens to the young hotel desk clerk worry about precipitous weather.


In Gordon Parks’ lost Octavia Butler photos Parks parks Butler

In Central Park & shoots her against the stars beginning to burn 

Between the leaves & city some twilight evening in 1963. 

She’s a teen, but tall & nearly as quiet as the trees & policemen 

Hovering over the scene. Parks shoots her near the tallest tree

Leaning into its shade, then clutching a hatchet, then transformed 

Into a small black bird perched in its branches. No police dogs

Are on the attack. Rain makes the tree bark appear 

To be sweating. The surface of everything cries over the black 

Holes between capitalism & spirituality; the manholes between 

Building & property. When asked about the banter shared 

During their time together, Butler & Parks recalled different things.  

If you see suffering’s potential as art, is it art or suffering? 

If you see life’s potential as art, is it artful or artificial living?

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