On “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin” by Terrance Hayes

Click here to read the poem.

The poem “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin” by Terrance Hayes is focusing on the theme of racism. But I will be focusing on some of the words that stick out and point us towards the Theme. I will be building a bridge between the words and the theme so that you can better understand what Mr. Hayes is trying to say

One of the words “probably” is says it many times. Infact that sentance with “probably” present Presents itself twice in this sonnet. So immediately this caught my eye, I started looking into what Probably might mean in this sense. I thought maybe probably means, since this poem is about racism that it might signify the unknowing of when the next attack can happen and how it “probably” will happen but you can never know when. Of course, I always hope it will never happen again.

There are some words or phrases that really connect the poem to racism. When terrance says, “Probably someone is prey in all of our encounters” I feel that he means whenever The black race meets the white race there is always someone who is prey, meaning one of the racist always think they are better that each other but in reality they should be equal.

Terrance Hayes mentions seven cities in this sonnet and they all connect to racism and race attacks. The sentence is Something happened, in Sanford, something happened in Ferguson and Brooklyn & Charleston, something happened in Chicago & Cleveland & Baltimore & happens almost everywhere in this country every day.” This line hit me hard because it mentions all the cities where race attacks occurred. In every single one of these cities, a black person was either lynched or executed by a white male. In Baltimore a black male, Freddy Gray, was arrested and brought for a “rough ride”, which is where a person is put in the back of a police car without a seatbelt and driven around, taking sharp turns and hard stops. Freddy sustained neck and back injuries putting him in a coma where he died the following morning. There were protests all week because of police brutality.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanda Sanders, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson; these are all the black men and woman that died on June, 17ths racial attack in Charleston South Carolina. A white male walked into a church, where a small group of people were meeting for bible study. In the middle of the sermon he stood up and yelled, “I am here to kill black people!” and opened fire on these unknowing citizens killing all nine of the names I said above. There are a bunch more racial attacks that happen all over the world every day. Terrance Hayes ever says that in the middle of the sonnet. He says, “happens almost everywhere in this country every day.” after talking about the different cities racial attacks happen in.

This poem has many connections to racism and racial attacks, so many that I wasn’t able to write about them all but just the main ones. But this sonnet really got me thinking and it should have for you.


As I started reading this poem it grew on me. I got more and more intrigued as I looked deeper and deeper into the meaning of this sonnet. This poem interested me because I have a passion for standing up for what’s right and I feel that everyone is equal, and so when I read this poem about black people’s rights and how they get violated I got interested. Do you believe that black people have the same rights as White people? Well if you don’t you should, I’m not trying to force my beliefs onto you but why discriminate against someone just because they have a different skin color than you. When looking into this poem, I searched racial attacks in all the different cities Terrace mentions. It brought me back to my childhood learning about different racial attacks happening all over the country and how people were getting discriminated because of what skin color they had. That confused me then and it still confuses me now.

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