Red Clay


Proem: Whose Story of Us We Is Told Is Us

Brother is we is each of us we ghosts

Brother of white folks we

don’t never known us brother we

Because we never doesn’t fits

Nowhere we brother

doesn’t fits in bodies

Our bodies we is always walking leaking

like a ghost can’t be a body in one place

But every eyes     / Catches and pulls at it

Like every eyes in any

white folks is another

Hole in our bodies

Brother     / Is we is never known them close

Up close     whose ghosts we brother leaking is

Whose story of us we is told is us     is water in a fist

Brother we not the fist

we not the water

we the thirst

1. The First Part of the Earth

We the thirst     brother the

we water from the inside from the lips

From nowhere to the lips

We water inside brother we to say it water

from the inside

thirst and we     / Can’t never have us     like it’s

water got a color     got a black

Brother we hungry water like

We was the first     / Part of the Earth

It’s we don’t even know

How any we could satisfy our hunger     what

Satisfy us     because it ain’t / Was nothing here before us brother the

Thing meant to satisfy it come before

the hungry thing     / So that the hungry thing will find it there

And known what it was for

2. The One Whose Mother Was Black and the One Whose Mother Was White

We known what it was for

and tell it brother let me tell it us     / Was it was for

And in the morning of the sun in the rising sun / Our faces to the sun

Or let me tell it you was born

Brother was winter I had asked for you / Brother was spring     the sun so much

it didn’t none of me believe the blue

Come out of the black

Brother until I was if I’m

A grown man now I thought the sky was two

skies let     / Me tell it us two skies     two brothers one / The black sky

one a color don’t come any part of black

Tell it we known what light

Was for

I can’t see     in my skin     our father’s face

3. Gone Sleeping in Me Till I Die

I can’t see     in my skin our father’s face / Brother or any other face

Of any like me brother the same black

Brother you got his skin or his but dark-

er but it’s darker so it’s his

Darker from where

it’s in the first place black keeps black     darker from where

It’s white or lighter from

black my whole families disappear     / My mother’s and our father’s families they

The white ones and the black ones gone / Brother they sleeping

Gone sleeping in me till I die     / Brother and it my skin turns gray     and dust

No skin the family of my skin

And if my skin

separates me from you

brother it does not keep me

4. Keep Us

Brother it does not keep us brother it

Keep us like wind keep a tree a tree

Rooted and still get never any rest

Brother it I     was raised to think Brazil

Our father he     abandoned me

went to Brazil

Brother I’m sorry     for the stories I was told

Brother the stories keep me even though I

Know they are stories even     kept away     / Our father him from him

Brother it keep us like a pond keep leaves

from trees on the pond they

Rotting in the thing they lived on

rot     / So slow it’s almost like forever

Brother our father me and him / That’s how it love

keep us together

5. Chicken Bones Piled Up High

Keep us together brother is our bodies is a grave / Got     piled up chicken bones in there

Brother is us our bodies is

the shards of them

Shards like they glass bad stuck

Bad shards of bone in the fried skin     / Ate up so much of the skin we brother like

We ain’t got human bones no more / We got

chicken bones piled up high

Might as well wear a sign we got

Chicken bones piled up high     / Get never any rest

from chewing night and day on glass     / Chicken bones piled up high

brother is like we graves     / Is we was born in bodies was

Graves first

like how we get our bodies if we ain’t

put chicken bones in it

6. Whole

Put chicken bones in it     and watermelon bones / We brother we

water men bones     / Is bones don’t say

or lift     or drag our bodies under is

Our bones is masks

Give us deceiving shapes     our bones is flesh

Give us the sameness we     brother we got between us give

Us how we separate ourselves

Brother we water and our bones is rocks in us

We rivers and our bones is trash     / Is sometimes bones themselves

from bodies thrown in is     / Brother we borrow it

Is brother we to say we thought / To borrow it believed

to couldn’t grow no human bones ourselves

If we was given our whole lives

7. From Which Others

If we were given our whole lives     / Brother if we

were given if / We given lives     brother our even our

Lives is our even our

if we were given brother to / Live them a black

lives brother if / Black lives were not     but would we want them

different were the

Standard the facelessness against

Which lives are measured facelessness

A white face even our     / Brother if we were given

but we couldn’t be     / Our lives the given from which others receive the gift


brother gets it whole

But if we were would you     / Brother     I know it

I would

not grant that wholeness to anybody else

8. Blood Familiar

Anybody else     / Brother I would more recognize myself

In anybody else     brother except I see

My shoulders in your shoulders my

Body in your clothes     but where your skin shows brother your

Face and your hands

your skin     / Darker than mine

which drifts and changes in the sun

Your skin our father’s skin

brother my little brother your

Name his name     the name he would have given me / If he had been allowed to choose

I recognize     / My name when I hear yours

but when I see / Your face     your hands

the hands I love     the face I love     the skin I love

Brother you are made strange by love

9. Asked

Brother you are made strange by love and was

Two when I asked for you our father for

You maybe I was three

was three I asked

Him for a brother brother by the time you came

Was three and gone had been     / Taken away gone

by the time you came     / To Texas by the time you came / Or his our father’s memory

He tells me he remembers me

Watching you in your crib

brother I don’t remember watching you

But grew up     when I thought of you

Imagining you there     / A baby I imagined looked like you

and that was who I grew up loving

And when I met you you were not my brother

10. His Face When I Was Looking

When I met you you were not my brother

Brother at sixteen you    at thirteen brother when

I finally tracked our father down

After I tracked our father down     my mother

She told me she had always seen his / Gestures in mine     / In the way

I turned my head to look away

And she had never told me that before     and said she always wanted to / Brother

I had no memories of you

No way to know or guess

No pictures of our father in the house / His

face when I was looking

your face when I

Had found you

I was raised an only child     I didn’t think

To look in the mirror or to look away

11. Brother I Was Taken Away and Told Our Father Had Abandoned Me

My face our father’s when I look away     / Or my

body your body when I move

Mine in the house alone     / In the house I grew up in / Brother     in the house not no one not

one brother one / Of any in the house one skin     of any matching skin     / Or tell

me brother what     the difference is between / The body and the face     / Looking

not any brother in the house     / Not any blood     / Or blood but not his blood

Brother not yours     the difference between

Resemblance and resemblance brother since

your hands move like his hands     or am I both

You and our father

rising do I rise

to walk away

12. We Become Impossible

Walking away     / Or never when I pictured him

Walking just disappeared     never just walking

out of the room     / Our father when I pictured him

leaving my mother me

Pictured him brother disappeared     / From the white room     from the hospital was there

To see me born and after gone just vanished I was told

That story brother I was told

he didn’t come

The story changed

From year to year when I was growing / Up

brother till when people asked I said

I didn’t have a father he

became impossible

Brother I don’t

visit because I can’t

I do not have a father and I love him

Coda: Love Between Men

I don’t     brother I do not have a

brother we’s     / Ghost makers any bringing babies

Into this world

brother it was my

Great-uncle wrestled     the gun from my mother’s father’s hands

The day her family got the news

Brother it was my     great-uncle it was a

Tenant he had evicted this was years     / Later

from the window of an empty

Apartment shot him through the neck

He wrestled the     gun from my mother’s father’s hands

Brother and you were born

And blood sprayed from the artery

A rose

like if the Lord had stopped

making in the middle of mak-

ing red


and never made their boundaries

Shane McCrae is the author of Mule (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011), a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Blood (Noemi Press, 2013), as well as two chapbooks. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Best American Poetry 2010, Fence, Gulf Coast, jubilat and others. In 2011, he received a Whiting Writer’s Award.

The first poem in this sequence (“Proem: Whose Story of Us We Is Told Is Us”) first appeared on The Academy of American Poets’ website, The second (“The First Part of the Earth”) was originally published in Gulf Coast.


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