Shane McCrae

Shane McCrae headshot

Shane McCrae is the author of seven books of poetry, including Sometimes I Never Suffered (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020); In the Language of My Captor (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and The Animal Too Big to Kill (Persea Books, 2015), winner of the 2014 Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor’s Choice Award. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He teaches at Columbia University and lives in New York City.

“After Carrie Kinsey’s Letter to Theodore Roosevelt”

from The Gilded Auction Block

A colored man
came and he said he would
Take care of him
good care and pay me     five
Dollars a month his name is my
Brother he is
about fourteen years old his name is James

Robinson and the man who took him his
Name is Dan Cal
Five dollars for his labor his
Name is Dan Cal
I didn’t know
The man before but now
I know him I has heard of him

From folks in town and from
elsewhere in the county in town
passing through
He sold my brother to

a white man named MacRee
They has been working him in prison for twelve month
And they won’t send him back to me

he has
No mother and no father Mr. President they are
both dead      / I am his only friend
My brother have not done
Nothing for them to have him in
Chains and I saw no money
I believe Dan Cal lives high on it

He does if any colored man gets
money for       / A colored man’s work
Mr. President but I will tell you I believe no
Colored man does      / Colored folks don’t
make money we make food
For other folks to eat
And air for other folks to breathe

Excepting colored folks don’t
make those things we are those things we are     food     we are air
I mend a white man’s coat I am his coat
With every stitch I stitch my skin on tighter

Even when we sell ourselves
Colored      folks don’t make money but we are white people’s money
Dan Cal is a white man’s dollar

By now my brother
is a pile of rocks
I know they got him breaking rocks
With every rock
He breaks he breaks himself
and he is more himself
Like he was always meant to be

that pile of rocks
But I’m afraid I wouldn’t know him if I saw him now
I write for you to help me
I know you must be
Busy but it     / Wouldn’t be nothing for you
Mr. President you
Are no one’s dollar but your own

From The Gilded Auction Block (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019)



Readings & Talks Featuring Shane McCrae and Vievee Francis (new window) | February 9, 2021