Poet Terrance Hayes responds to the work of Ellen Gallagher

  • Ellen Gallagher Deluxe 2004–5 (detail, Wiglette)

    Ellen Gallagher
    Deluxe 2004–5 (detail, Wiglette)

    Tate
    © Ellen Gallagher

Sometimes I want a built-in scalp
that looks and feels like skin. A form of camouflage,
protection against sunburn and frostbite,
horsehair that covers the nightmares and makes me civilised.

Somebody slap a powdered wig on me so I can hammer
a couple sentences like Louis XIV small and bald
as a boiled egg making himself taller by means
of a towering hairpiece resembling a Corinthian column

or maybe a sky-scraping Kid with no Play wig
worn by someone playing Niggaz Wit Attitude
at a penthouse party with no Black people.

We up in the club humming Hmm-mmm, Hey Mamma
and our numbskull caps underscore the brain’s captivity.

Somebody slap me. Norman Mailer’s essay,
The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster,
never actually uses the word wigger. I’d rather say whack.
It may be fruitful to consider me a philosophical psychopath.

We clubbing in our wigs of pleas and pathological
coulda-woulda-shouldas. Oblong with longing.
Some of the ladies are wigs of No Nos and nots,
knots of nots: do nots, cannots, aughta nots.

Wigs dipped in dye the colour of Cosmopolitans,
citrus, wheat beer swirling on their scalps, off their scalps,
sides of scalps, their centre parts, and irrigated plaits.

Flirty Bangs dangle below a bow clip of sparkle.
A lady places her bow about face to place her face in place.
Which is a placebo of place, her face is a placebo.

Let’s wear ready-made wigs, custom-made wigs,
hand-tied wigs and machine-made wigs.

‘No Negro can saunter down a street with any real certainty
that violence will not visit him,’ wrote Mailer.

Bullets shout through the darkness. Dumb people are dangerous.
‘Calamity pimps come out of the woodwork
and start to paddle their own canoes.’
This was a white dude’s response to the death of Martin.
Later let’s beat that apathy wig off him.

You wear the shark-head wig and I’ll wear the wig of tidewater
rising to the ceiling. You wear the buckaroo wig
and I’ll wear a wig of tumbleweed. When anyone says,

‘You look beautiful,’ reply: ‘I feel beautiful’
like the beautiful shoulder length locks
shorn from a cancer stuffed bride in need of money.

Let’s get higher than God tonight like the military wives
of Imperial Rome smiling in the blonde and red-haired wigs
cut from the scalps of enemy captives. Somebody slap me.

We awash in liquor watching the coils curl,
curls coil, coils coil, curls curl on the girls.

Nonslip polyurethane patches, superfine lace,
Isis wigs, Cleopatra wigs, Big Bootie Judy wigs
under the soft radar streaked music of Klymaxx
singing ‘The men all pause when I walk into the room.’

The men all paws. Animals. The men all fangles,
the men all wolf-woofs and a little bit lost, lust,
lustrous, trustless, restless as the rest of us.

In my life the wigs eat me. The wish to live awhile on the mind
of another human is not inhuman. The wish to slide
for a while inside another human, it is not inhuman.

If you like ‘like’ like I like ‘like,’ you should wear a hairpiece.
It is peace of mind. It is artistic. It is a lightweight likeness,
comfortable, wash and wear, virtually looking and feeling
with virtually no side effects. Let me hear you say:

‘This wig is terrific!’ A coloured despair wig
for your coloured despair, an economic despair wig,
a sexual despair wig, a wig for expressive despair,
political despair, a movable halo. New and improved,

your wig can be set upon the older wig
just as the older wig was set,
when it was newer, upon the wig beneath it.
Where’s your wig? Wear your wig. Your wig is terrific.

Terrance Hayes is a poet and professor of English at the Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennysylvania