Pushcart XLI: Shane McCrae, “Still When I Picture It the Face of God Is a White Man’s Face” (poem) from Poetry, Nov. 2015

Image by Joshua Tilghman after Michelangelo

Image by Joshua Tilghman after Michelangelo

Before it disappears
on the sand his long white       beard before it disappears
The face of the man
in the waves I ask her does she see it ask her does
The old man in the waves       as the waves crest she see it does
she see the old man…

Complete poem available online at Poetry

In McCrae’s bio entry on the Poetry website, I read “[his] attention to both meter and its breakage in his poems emphasizes the chafe of historical accounting against contemporary slippage, engaging this country’s troubling history and continuation of oppression and violence.” I can see elements of both in this poem: phrases lapping and overlapping as waves at the shore. The choppiness of the language adds to the disjointed images and messages we’re subjected to all the time, but perhaps more to the attention span of a child: everything is in the moment.

Thanks to a lesson I learned from “Spring Forecast” a few entries ago, I’ve never been more aware of the title informing the poem. Without the title, this could be any beach scene. Start with the title, and cute family drama becomes social commentary: we see the difference between the vision and imagination of the child who creates God in her own image, and the adult, aware (those spaces after white, twice) that interpretation of what we see is shaped as much by socially acquired imagery of what is the norm and what is other as by the reality of photons on retina.

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3 responses to “Pushcart XLI: Shane McCrae, “Still When I Picture It the Face of God Is a White Man’s Face” (poem) from Poetry, Nov. 2015

  1. Karen, I’m such a big fan of your blog. Can you help direct me to a story you blogged about that was about cows? The author watched them everyday and how they moved around. For some reason it is relevant to me to find this piece.

    • I’m afraid I’m drawing a blank on the cows. The essay from earlier this week, Lia Purpura’s “Scream“, included mention of cows in a stockyard; that’s about the closest I can come. I did a couple of searches for cows and cattle and don’t see anything else – Sorry! If I think of anything I’ll let you know.

  2. I like when I feel I can “get’ a poem, except that there isn’t much to talk about afterwards. When I see the use of breaks like this, I always wonder about the old relationship of poetry to music, and the assumption that poetry was meant to be read out loud, and what it means that so much of the meaning can sometimes be carried by something you wouldn’t be aware of if you only heard the poem.

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