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Essay Online

Airport Code

Wherever your foot lands, something’s buried.

By Terrance Hayes

  • April 7, 2022
Is there anything stranger than an airport? In our airport code series, writers pick a travel hub to unravel.

I am wandering the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the place I know best in a city I can never quite figure out. This flight has been delayed due to weather. People’s names, numbers, and places reverberate throughout the place less than one hundred miles from my birthplace. A trail of beeping can be followed in perpetuity delayed in CLT. Report any suspicious person or unusual activity. Our homecoming queen married our rival’s homecoming king, then they moved to Charlotte. We are now inviting those passengers with small children, and any passengers requiring special assistance, at an undetermined gate.

Do not accept articles from unknown persons. Listening to music, I half hear things amid the beeping. “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads is playing. Do not accept articulations from unknown personas. Do not accept accents from unknown persuasions. Do not accept asides from unknown personnel. Do not accept bags from strangers.

Ronnie’s sisters Cookie and Peachy, I believe, live in Charlotte. We’re looking for passengers who are willing to take a later flight in exchange for a travel voucher. Curt’s brothers Sammy and Michael and their mother since their father passed. This flight has been delayed due to maintenance issues. I threw my back out working in the yard with my father the morning after the funeral. Somehow I drove the rental car back to CLT for my flight. “Soul Vibrations” by Dorothy Ashby is playing. By the elevator in a movable chair and sweater, someone’s child and parent. Report any suspicious pessimists or unusual actions. A woman with a small dog or child in a stroller.

The manager of the high school track team lives in Charlotte. My cousin Yolanda moved here from Florida. The departure gate has been changed. I should visit her. Ronnie’s cousin Sammy lives here. I should visit him. It’s like I suffer amnesia when I come to Charlotte. Breonna Taylor looks like Condoleezza Rice airbrushed on the bouncing blue-jeaned sister’s oversized RIP T-shirt. The departure gate has been changed. The airport is a time hole, everybody knows that. This flight has been delayed due to staffing problems. Once deplaning I ran into a college basketball teammate, a five-foot, three-inch Napoleonic point guard, wearing a CLT staff uniform on the tarmac. (He could jump out of the gym and swore his penis was so long it touched the water when he sat on the toilet.) I haven’t seen him since.

Twice I have seen Cornel West. Including yesterday when he gave me a hug and made me sweat. The second-string quarterback with the mullet and white Camaro moved to Charlotte, but he is no longer with us. Alicia Fountain with her nine or ten lives and the most perfectly coifed curtain of slickly black hair I have ever seen even after several years of chemo and drugs and constant pain: she lives in Charlotte. Hands down, the toughest human I know. Pray for my former in-laws. I heard one of the twins was shot and buried somewhere in this town not long ago. There has to be a word deeper than grief for the sibling who loses a twin.

“Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)” by Duke Ellington is playing. We are now inviting those pastors with small chins to begin boarding at this time. We are now inviting those passwords with small chimes, those pastes with a little chili pepper and lime at this time. Shout-outs to the people we pass and the people who pass on the journey. Wherever your foot lands, something’s buried. Please have your boarding pass and identification ready.

Terrance Hayes’s most recent publications include American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, which won the 2019 Hurston/ Wright Legacy Award for Poetry, and To Float in the Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight, which was the winner of the 2019 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. Hayes is a professor of English at New York University.