Poetry: Shane McCrae

Privacy 2




I tell the keeper I don’t know

What he or any white man means

When he says privacy

Especially



In the phrase In the privacy

Of one’s own home     / I understand

he thinks he means a kind of

Militarized aloneness



If he would listen I would ask him whether

The power / To enforce alone-

ness and aloneness

can exist together



Instead I tell him where I’m from we

Have no such con-

cept if he thinks I am     / Too wise

he won’t speak honestly



And so I talk the way the men

He says are men like me

Talk in the books he reads to me

I understand



Those books are not supposed to make me wise

And yet I think perhaps

They show me what he means

By privacy     // Perhaps



by privacy he means / This

certainty he has that

The weapons he has made

Will not be used against him











In the Language



I cannot talk about the place I came from

I do not want it to exist

The way I knew it

In the language of my captor



The keeper asks me why I

Refuse him this

I think to anyone who came from / The place I came from

It would be obvious



but     // I did not think my people

Superior to other people     before

The keeper’s language has infected me

I knew of     // Few people



Beyond the people / I knew

before and when I met new people

The first thing I assumed was

they were just like me



Perhaps even relatives

Who had before my birth been lost

In the jungle or on the plain

Or on the other side of the mountain



And so at first I thought the white men     / Were ghosts

one spoke my language

And said that he had spoken to my father

I did not fear them



I thought they had been

whitened by the sun     / Like bones     wandering

I thought I could / Help them

I thought they didn’t



Know they were dead











Privacy



I tell the keeper I don’t know

What he or any white man means

When he says privacy

Especially



In the phrase In the privacy

Of one’s own home     / I understand

he thinks he means a kind of

Militarized aloneness



If he would listen I would tell him

Privacy is impossible

If one’s community is

Not bound by love



Instead I tell him where I’m from we

Have no such concept

If he thinks I am / Too wise

he won’t speak honestly



And so I make an     / Effort to make

my language fit his

Idea of what I am

I find with him     and with his guests



Because I’m on display in

A cage with monkeys

I / Must speak and act

carefully to maintain     / His privacy



and // If he would listen I would tell him

Where privacy

Must be defended

There is no privacy



I have become an // Expert on the subject

But I have also learned

The keeper will not trust me     / To understand

even what he has taught me















KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAShane McCrae teaches at Oberlin College and at Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program. His most recent books are In the Language of My Captor (forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press in 2017) and The Animal Too Big to Kill (Persea Books, 2015). He has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, a fellowship from the NEA, and a Pushcart Prize.

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