Shane McCrae

Possibly my grandfather, who was/is white, and who, along with my grandmother, raised me, read other books. But the only book I remember ever seeing on the big bookshelves—big, yes, but filled with things like, you know, an antique coffee grinder, photo albums, Playboys until I started climbing—was a racist children’s picture book called Little Brown Koko. This poem is part of a series in which I respond mostly to the pictures in a book I haven’t seen for, what, 25 years?

 

***

ON THE WHITE INVISIBILITY OF THE WORLD

 

Little Brown Koko sits or sits

In my imagination if he sits

Anywhere leans against

sitting leans back against

the trunk of a blossoming apple tree

And my imagination and my memories

 

Are bound so close together might

As well be I remember it

In the book as I remember it

Little Brown Koko leans his hat pulled down

Over his eyes his hands behind his head

A sprig of wheat between his teeth

 

And even paradise

full greeny full of green is white / The green of the meadow the

white skin of the grasses

Little Brown Koko is the only living

thing in the meadow

That doesn’t fit in living

 

A black boy is

both more and less a part of nature

Than every other part of nature

And the race of the meadow is

the meadow is American

and white men have no race

 

The white of the apple blossoms blossoms bright a white the pink of

Cherry tree blossoms

Bright like the leaves will never darken

Bright like the fruit will never hang

***

Shane McCrae is the author of MuleBloodForgiveness Forgiveness (forthcoming from Factory Hollow Press), and three chapbooks—most recently, Nonfiction. His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in The Best American PoetryThe American Poetry ReviewFencePleiades, LIT and elsewhere, and he has received a Whiting Writer’s Award and a fellowship from the NEA. He teaches at Oberlin College and in the brief-residency MFA program at Spalding University.