cover image The Animal Too Big to Kill

The Animal Too Big to Kill

Shane McCrae. Persea (Norton, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-89255-464-5

In his fourth collection, McCrae (Forgiveness Forgiveness) explores growing up with visibly black heritage in a family of white supremacists. He handles the experience in spare lines that evoke a cumulative buildup toward self-hatred, which evolves into an awareness of racism. His deft hand is evident in the title poem, suggesting a prayer in which racism is likened to a beast made of all the animals that one might consume in a lifetime. McCrae’s anaphoric play in the opening section, where many of the poems start with “Growing up black white trash,” reveals a deep understanding of class and race. Biblical references are also sprinkled throughout. “The Seven Last Words of Christ,” one of McCrae’s most moving poems, is broken into seven sections, each prefaced with the brief statements Jesus made post-crucifixion. Here, McCrae begins to describe a mother’s physical decline and the speaker’s withdrawal as the mother becomes less familiar and the house becomes crowded and unkempt. His bold critique even extends to his titles, such as “I Know It’s Hard for You to Believe That You Still Benefit from Slavery” and “What It Takes to Get the Attention of White Liberals.” McCrae’s heartrending work functions as an elegy for a life that could have begun so much differently. (Dec.)