cover image In the Language of My Captor

In the Language of My Captor

Shane McCrae. Wesleyan Univ., $24.95 (104p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7711-5

McCrae (The Animal Too Big to Kill) continues his confrontations with American racism in his superb, if occasionally long-winded, fifth collection. He splits the text into four sections of lyric poems, with the second featuring a prose “memoir” series. Within the memoir persona, McCrae intersperses poems that use Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his adopted mixed-race son, Jim Limber, to explore the complications of losing one’s own racial identity within a family dynamic: “My Daddy’s white so I don’t get his face.” Much of McCrae’s work here wrangles with being trapped in a history where one is treated inhumanely and with constant suspicion, with those feelings reflected—or projected—back on those responsible for that treatment. “Whether you’re here/ to see me or to see the monkeys// You’re here to see yourselves,” he writes. As McCrae makes clear, having to constantly negotiate the boundaries of one’s otherness leads to an internal tug of war: “Listen I do a thing to piss a white man off// I’m bound to that man’s will hell/ I’m bound to that man’s pleasure/ He got me on a level where he doesn’t even have to think/ And all I do is think about him.” With a raw honesty, McCrae refuses to shy away from the effects of oppression and faces up to those not willing to acknowledge their part in a history many want to forget. (Feb.)