The Reformation

The Reformation

(being a continuation of “The Hell Poem,” which nonetheless ends, not to be continued, before this poem begins)


In the morning what I took

To be the morning     light

Burned through the ceiling sun-

light through a magnify-

ing glass through paper but

It looked like a film melt-

ing a     consuming hole

The robot bird flew down

From the ceiling     landed on

My head bent     its head down

And whispered in my ear

Wake up you     fucker all

Night I had stood awake     un-

able to move all night but

As soon as the bird spoke I

Collapsed     the robot hovered

Where my head had been

And barked Hurry     the fuck

Up follow me     and turned and

Flew toward a fissure wid-

ening in the fleshy wall

At first it flew in silence

In front of and above me

Guiding me through a narrow

Tall cave     but after we e-

merged into a large chamber

The robot bird transformed

Like Starscream     really like

Any Decepticon

Any Transformer really

Except without the whirring

Into a giant human-

oid robot well     at least

A really tall one eight

Feet tall     at least and gray and

Its arms and legs were thin

As pencils slivers of

What looked like bone     white bone

Jutted from its knuckles

Gray like the parts of cars

You’re not supposed to see

Stained with old blood     that rust     red

Color except it’s oily

You sometimes see in splotches

On new car parts     in splotches

On the robot too     and stood still

Beside me for a moment

Facing a wide dark pit

In the middle of the chamber

Like an Olympic diver

Standing at the edge of the board

Her gaze fixed neither on

The pool nor any object

In the arena but

Inward instead her eyes

Now signs     now metaphors

Of and for visions no

Spectator could imagine

Before she leaps and leaping

Both transcends and makes

More definite the lim-

its of the human body

And then the robot growled

First stop is processing

Down at the bottom of The-


Of is a mountain     we’ll

Fall down to the base     then climb

Up to the peak     from there

We’ll take an elevator

Down to the center of

The mountain that’s     the HR

Bunker the boss wants     if

The boss’ boss ever shuts

Us down     to have a record

He wants some evidence that

It was wrong to open Hell and

It’s wrong to shut it down

He knows he’ll stand before

A judge someday     he needs a

Talented HR team

At this the robot turned

To look me in the eyes

And I think saw my pit-

ying confusion     since as

It stepped to the black edge

Of the pit it     barked Fuck you

You think you know what suffer-

ing is     you asshole if

I asked you what it was

You’d probably try to tell me

That’s how I know you don’t

Know shit      and then it dove

Into the pit and though

I had     followed the bird

Freely I hadn’t been

Bound     after it had fallen

Maybe twenty feet

I felt a cord I couldn’t

See     unravelling

Before me then I felt

A jolt and a hot sting

As the cord jerked me forward

Too hard and quickly and

Tore through me just above

My hips     I saw my legs

Fall then I realized

The rest of me was falling

After them and falling

Faster than they were

And I flipped upside down

And stretched     forward to catch them

And caught them by my belt

And gasping flipped myself

Right-side up again

And held     my legs beneath

Me by my belt blood sticking

My hands to the belt     as I

Fell     thinking only     were

The buttons on my shirt lined

Up with my zipper     straining

To get a good look shiver-

ing shouting     down to the robot

Buttons     screaming     Zipper


I landed on my feet my femurs

Snapped free at the hip     and exited

My body through my upper chest

One on each side and just below my

Shoulders each trailing innards streamers

Burst from a party popper the

Torments of Hell     setting aside

The screams and all that always were

A little bit     funny to see

Like torments in a cartoon fun-

ny and the more     torments I suffered

The funnier the suffering

Of others got but     not till after

A dozen years or so did finding

The suffering of others funny

Become so funny it became

A source of suffering to me

So that was later     now I watched

My femurs rocket forward as

The rest of my bones liquefied     my

Eyes sinking in a puddle of

Myself     the right     femur I think the

Right one flew maybe     thirty feet

Before it thudded wetly into

The dirt the left (I had been left-

Handed in life) had     slammed against

The back of the robot’s neck     and stuck

A moment then slid wetly down

And touched the black     dirt the same in-

stant the right femur touched it What

The fuck the giant     robot barked as

It turned     rubbing its neck     to me

Asshole     that’s gonna leave a mark as

It barked I felt a tightening

I knew     was the invisible

Cord I had felt     at the edge of the pit

Even though I had no body it

Constricted my     puddle the way a

Drain constricts water     and I saw

My femurs flying back to me

And felt my insides hardening

And realized I was watching from

A head again     as I watched my

Femurs re-enter me through the holes in

My chest     they had made exiting

The coming back     together was

Agony greater than     the flying

Apart had been     and coming back

Together the     each part     the proc-

ess of it raised me to my feet

Even as my feet     were recon-

stituted     I flew into me

And even though I felt my bones

Straighten inside me even though

I saw my torso and legs merge

And saw my body     still the sound

Of my     body reforming sound-

ed like paint splattering inside me

As if my body     world in world

Were only chaos flung on bones

Shane McCrae‘s most recent books are The Gilded Auction Block (2019) and Sometimes I Never Suffered (2020), both from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has received a Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Whiting Writer’s Award. He lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University.

You can find more from Shane McCrae here.


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