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We Should Make a Documentary About Spades

by Terrance Hayes (1971)

And here is all we’ll need: a card deck, quartets of sun people

Of the sort found in black college dormitories, some vintage

Music, indiscriminate spirits, fried chicken, some paper,

 

A writing utensil, and a bottomless Saturday. We should explore

The origins of a derogatory word like spade as well as the word

For feeling alone in polite company. And also the implications

Of calling someone who is not your brother or sister,

 

Brother or Sister. So little is known of our past, we can imagine

Damn near anything. When I say maybe slaves held Spades

Tournaments on the anti-cruise ships bound for the Colonies,

You say when our ancestors were cooped on those ships

 

They were not yet slaves. Our groundbreaking film should begin

With a low-lit den in the Deep South and the deep fried voice

Of somebody’s grandmother holding smoke in her mouth

As she says, “The two of Diamonds trumps the two of Spades

 

In my house.” And at some point someone should tell the story

Where Jesus and the devil are Spades partners traveling

The juke joints of the 1930s. We could interview my uncle Junior

And definitely your skinny cousin Mary and any black man

 

Sitting at a card table wearing shades. Who do you suppose

Would win if Booker T and MLK were matched against Du Bois

And Malcolm X in a game of Spades? You say don’t talk

Across the table. Pay attention to the suits being played.

 

The object of the game is to communicate invisibly

With your teammate. I should concentrate. Do you suppose

We are here because we are lonely in some acute diasporafied

Way? This should be explored in our film about Spades.

 

Because it is one of the ways I am still learning what it is

To be black, tonight I am ready to master Spades. Four players

Bid a number of books. Each team adds the bids

Of the two partners, and the total is the number of books

 

That team must try to win. Is that not right? This is a game

That tests the boundary between mathematics and magic,

If you ask me. A bid must be intuitive like the itchiness

Of the your upper lip before you sip strange whiskey.

 

My mother did not drink, which is how I knew something

Was wrong with her, but she held a dry spot at the table

When couples came to play. It’s a scene from my history,

But this probably should not be mentioned in our documentary

 

About Spades. Renege is akin to the word for the shame

You feel watching someone else’s humiliation. Slapping

A card down must be as dramatic as hitting the face of a drum

With your palm, not hitting the face of a drum with a drumstick.

 

You say there may be the sort of outrage induced

By liquor, trash talk, and poor strategy, but it will fade

The way a watermark left on a table by a cold glass fades.

I suspect winning this sort of game makes you feel godly.

 

I’m good and ready for who ever we’re playing

Against tonight. I am trying to imagine our enemy.

I know you are not my enemy. You say there are no enemies

In Spades. Spades is a game our enemies do not play.

In Spades. Spades is a game our enemies do not play.Hayes, Terrence. “We Should Make a Documentary About Spades.” 1971. How To Be Drawn, Penguin Publishing Group, 2015, Poets.org, www.poets.org/poetsorg/12-poems-read-black-history-month. Accessed 7 Feb. 2019.