The Visible Boy

The Visible Boy


1. The Subject

Little Brown Koko goes by Koko

in the book as I remember it

Although he is     / Little and black although he is

Subject to the book

in the book as I remember it     / Nobody calls him Little Brown Koko

nobody in the book

The writer calls him Little Brown

Koko and     / It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s little

what / Matters is that he’s black

And even without the illustrations the

Reader would know he’s black

Because his name is Little first     then Brown

although / Nobody calls him Little Brown

Koko in the book as I remember it

Although he is

subject to the book

2. The Light

Little Brown Koko wears a ragged wide-brimmed hat

A straw hat straw-

Colored and torn some

in the book as I remember it

Torn some and split the brim is split a few

In a few places

wide and always showing angled

up and showing like / A straw-

Colored medieval halo

Except the sky shows through

Blue and the red of the red barn as Little

Brown Koko walks past it

in the book as I remember it

In the book as I remember it     / The red barn overflows with golden hay

Almost the color of the hat

but gilded by a light     / The illustrator doesn’t draw

down to the brown boy

3. The Empty Spaces

Little Brown Koko skips along

A picket fence as tall as he is

in the book as I remember it

In the book as I remember

it the fence is brown

And I remember wondering

why it wasn’t white / Like

the white picket fences in my mind

White like I never saw a picket fence

Until I saw a white one knew I’d seen

A picket fence

Soon as I saw a white one

all     the picket fences on

My street were brown

White like I saw it on vacation

white     / Like I felt like

I finally knew how picket fences worked

Even the empty spaces looked

as solid as a wall

4. The Dog

Little Brown Koko walks

Barefoot in summer

in winter in spring     / Little Brown Koko plays

barefoot in dirt

In the book as I remember it

In the book as I remember it     a small white dog

Follows him everywhere     / Little Brown Koko walks

In this adventure fast he sometimes he’s

Looks like he’s almost running

He wants to shake the dog he tells the dog

He wants a better dog the dog

won’t get shook loose

Little Brown Koko sees all kinds of better dogs

In the book as I remember it in town great

Big dogs he tells the dog

I seen how smart they is

They chase me like they know what I don’t got

5. The Athlete

Little Brown Koko / Surrounds himself

with     or in the book as I remember it     is surrounded by

parentheses / The illustrator

keeps him moving

black     / Parentheses like     as if his brown skin struck

black / Sparks on the air with every step

As if to show it comes / Off

as impossible fire

Black quarter moons     orbiting Little Brown Koko’s knees

As if he were a sun and world together

The source of the black light     / Reflected by the moons his every movement light

And the planet the moons are bound to

The black boy makes a solar system running and / Runs

like he knows     no pictures otherwise     no life

6. The Dead Come Back

Little Brown Koko rolls a watermelon

carefully along a picket fence

In the book as I remember it

In the book as I remember it

The picket fence is brown

And I remember wondering

why it wasn’t white

But here my memories

Feel loose here here the fence

might have been white

In the book as I remember it

An unseen something stalks the child

Something I felt inside me stalking me

In the book as I remember it

He stole the watermelon from an old white neighbor

He rolls it slowly

as the stone was rolled / From the mouth

of the tomb from which the lynched come back and live forever

7. The Two Blacks

Little Brown Koko’s mother bakes him cornbread

in the book as I remember it

She beats him with a wooden spoon

She chases him from the house

Waving a rolling pin above her head

In the book as I remember it

in the book as I remember it

The illustrator indicates the motion     / With action lines

Parentheses surround the rolling pin

Parentheses surround

Little Brown Koko running from the house

The black of the parentheses

Is different from the black of his brown skin

The two blacks tell the reader

everything the reader needs to know about him

Like two-way mirrors

8. The Handkerchief

Little Brown Koko packs a handkerchief

In the book as I remember it to run away

He ties the handkerchief

To the end of a long straight stick

In the book as I remember it he walks

Barefoot to the train yard toward the train yard sees

Trains in the distance sees the train yard he sees trains

Little Brown Koko wants to run away / Riding

he’s running from

His mother     who has beaten him

For stealing watermelons

as he walks his handkerchief his red

Handkerchief took it from his mother blackens wet

He lays the stick down

he / Opens the handkerchief

it’s packed full with

the dripping rinds

9. The Storm

Little Brown Koko sees a girl

Little black girl as black as he is

little as

In the book as I remember it he sees her from

a distance from the train yard in

Another distance

turns     / From looking at     thinking about the trains in the train yard sees

Her playing in her yard

Really from where as far as he is sees her

Sitting in grass     / Waving her arms

it’s not until he gets himself real close he sees her     / He sees

she’s playing isn’t even

Thinking of him     still hasn’t seen him

He feels a feeling like he feels / Sometimes like when     he gets caught stealing

when he knows

his mom-     / ma’s gonna beat him that

feeling except for warm

The feeling when he knows it’s coming no

Real boundaries in the world

No closing any door could keep him safe

except for warm     / And warm

Isn’t a difference he could say for sure it matters sees

She’s playing with a doll it’s dressed like she is

white     / Dress and not wearing shoes

Except the doll is wearing shoes has one white shoe

And one bare foot

He speaks he says     his name is Koko she

says     I don’t have to talk to you / She says it like

she has been watching him the whole     / Time

but she doesn’t look at him

His lips as full and round as worms

Dying surprised just after rain

10. The Thief

Little Brown Koko / Buys     candy cigarettes

In the book as I remember it

With pennies he     found in the road

and saved for months

Not all at once

all five     pennies at once / Mostly in town     / Always in town and so he walks to town

Any free day he gets it’s

A full day’s walking to

town and back home he leaves before or walks back after

The day and most days he finds nothing

What boy ever so walked so far for sweetness far to feel

Like he has outgrown sweetness

like a man inside who even his sweetness burns

Little Brown Koko steals

A watermelon sometimes walking back

even its sweetness burns

11. The Perfume

Little Brown Koko wears a wide-brimmed / Hat

in the windy country he was born to

It’s easy to find God

when something’s being taken from you

The black boy finds God everywhere

In the book as I remember it he hears

The voice of God in town in spring in the

morning in spring / Walking through town in spring

He smells a bright perfume / A white

woman’s perfume

On the breeze it is the voice of God describing / The breeze

and even as a gust     carries his hat away / He feels

nothing he sees     nothing his eyes

Are closed he hears the voice of God

He doesn’t see the white man coming

shouting with the voice of God

12. The Visible Boy

Little Brown Koko lives in pictures

in the book as I remember it

In illustrations always somehow too

Small for his body

the / Solid black outlines of his body no

Sure boundary for his brown black skin

His belly covered not held in

By bright red overalls     / His overalls

Stop just above his knees

the pink of his pink lips

Stretches to cover the

Bigness of his big lips

In the book as I remember it

I saw him also in the words

but wrong in the words / In my     mind as I read the words

His body hadn’t been

fixed beaten into shape

by an unseen hand

They Title the Postcard “Just Singing a Song”

The writer and the illustrator and

Little Brown Koko

Meet to decide     over coffee what he is

Little Brown Koko takes his

black it’s brown like him

The writer and the illustrator take

theirs Diet Coke

Little Brown Koko says he is a joke

White folks make black folks

Play on themselves

The writer and the illustrator nod

Then frown

go blank

Then say

They never seen him round

These parts before boy what’s your name

Little Brown Koko says he is song

more grating every time it’s sung

Closer to silence every time it’s sung

They string him up

they stuff his severed penis in his mouth



Shane McCrae is the author of Mule, Blood, and three chapbooks–most recently, Nonfiction, which won the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook Competition. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, The American Poetry Review, Fence, Gulf Coast and elsewhere, and he has received a Whiting Writer’s Award and a fellowship from the NEA. He teaches in the brief-residency MFA program at Spalding University.

His poem “Brother” also appeared in At Length. You can read it here.


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