top of page

S H A N E   M C C R A E
4 poems




One’s opportunities to be unhappy are 


One’s singlemost inheritance, all other un


-ities requiring acknowledgment of pen 


-dant interests, it’s a miracle to whom, what person 


You’re still alive?     The city is an alphabet 


Of numbers, those past 26 a sudden never 


-Ending and boundlessness, but once so short and narrow 


You sang it as you smashed toy trains together, the 


Sneering green engine smashing into the blue engine 


That really smiled, how useful, but how really useful 


Reverse nostalgia of the unfamiliar grid 


Becoming home, all comfort is decay,     the city 


You’re sure is not a living thing because it gets 


Harder as it decays, more fatal where there’s less 


Of it, until it’s gone and all at once not fatal


In hills you once imagined, green hills cushion-soft 


Upon which you imagined you would lay a gingham 


Blanket, a wicker basket, then from the latter pull 


A cartoon sandwich and a cartoon slice of pie 


On a white plate, life a cartoon, the world, except 


The slice itself is plastic, a dog’s chew toy, your


Dog’s toy, it matches neither world exactly, not


The cartoon world you when you were a child imagined 


And not the world, the wrong     colors in the cartoon 


The texture of the colors wrong, no life in the world 


No life at all, but in the cartoon it’s too much


Of the world and all the life in the world, the plastic pie 


All comfort is decay.     And you have spent your middled 


Life searching for the turkey leg the greedy wolf 


Pulled last from the basket in the cartoon, after watching 


Which your imagination then developed almost 


Without your input, you’ve searched     passively, it’s true 


You’ve sat at the dining table in the afternoon 


And who are they, this family, you want to say 


Arisen, but you want to say They manifested


Like moaning spirits in a bog, uncertain where 


You got the image from, every Thanksgiving you 


Have sat     at the festooned table in the afternoon, a bib 


From the Red Lobster in the heart     of the next town over 


Around your neck, knife in one hand, fork in the other 


And licked your maw exactly like the greedy wolf 


As if your hunger were a spell you cast on the food 


But never has the cartoon turkey leg appeared 


The perfect, brazen turkey leg you’ve hungered for 


Since you were small, when you first saw the brazen leg 


Drawn steaming from the picnic basket like a sword 


Drawn steaming from the entrails of your enemy 












Yourself, that you were praising the pale dead 


Halfway yourself, and half     there and half not there 


At which yourself will be removed, in the mid- 


dle depths, where light is hypnotized from the water 




By the gaining deep.     To say a darkness walks 


Always beneath your body is     not to say 


You walk in light. Light     cherishes a fox 


Crossing the lake above you. Run away 




From the bigger animal, or chase the smaller 


More you than you,     from fear of you,     from the womb 


Be eaten then, or eat, be killed     then, kill, far 


The fox’s shore, but you will be consumed 










The penguins in the Doctor Strange wolf’s jet 


Next to his head look small as bowling pins 


       I’m shopping Benzes with my mans 


When has the dealer made me happy yet 




When did a war last make you cry?     It ain’t 


Me askin’, babe. My     racist friend don’t talk 


       Except to them as do not look 


Like him,     to whom he speaks no cant, but cain’t




The flyby shakes the retconned golden dice 


Somewhere you’ve never been, a     nomad paces 


       He woke to shouting from our houses 


Last night.     His dog is bloody with our lice 











It wasn’t winter, was it     April, was it June 


The horses on the Common, still, 


                                                     tall as tall towers  

Each horse still     with the liquid stillness of a living thing 


Liquid, but will not settle into, take the shape 


Of any one container, not     even itself 


Clopped over, shaking its head,     each, a forward-going 


No, led from the staging area, concrete,     so not 


A stable, to the rise, 


                                    it must have been a rise   

In the grass, on which each horse assumed magnificence 


The flying boundaries festooned by college banners 


Or was it May?     July?     The future was New England 


Because we die in the future.     Good ye the little banners 


Made big by kindless stretching,     and yet saggily 


Empurpling the dirty bricks.     It wasn’t that 

The cops ennobled them, the danger, no, but that 


The horses made the cops seem     decorative,     November 


Queasy with still green summer, life outliving life 

Shane McCrae’s most recent books are Sometimes I Never Suffered, a finalist for the Maya Angelou Book Award, the T. S. Eliot Prize, and the Rilke Prize, and Cain Named the Animal, a finalist for the Forward Prize and longlisted for the PEN/Voelcker Award. His memoir, Pulling the Chariot of the Sun, will be published in August by Scribner. In 2023, he was awarded the Arthur Rense Poetry Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and his other awards include a Lannan Literary Award and a Whiting Writer's Award. He has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.  

bottom of page