Shane McCrae

Banjo Yes Receives A Lifetime Achievement Award



I ain’t no never had to never done


No acting not like some of these white boys / Nothing


you’ll find in books


y’all listen close / Now     and I’ll tell you how I got my name




I worked on     as a young man on a lot


What do you think I did I cleaned I fetched


Shit and more shit shit both ways shit and took


And kept it too yes     and whenever I thought




A white boy might be calling me shit yes / I answered


one     morning and I’m just cross-


ing from one thing to the next I hear a shout


Banjo and so     I lift my head but not




Too high that ain’t my name and I say Yes


Back loud but     real polite     and this white boy


I never seen before and he’s away


Over the other side of the lot but each




Of the white boys there he had a different


Important way of standing and no I


Ain’t seen this boy before he had his fists


Jammed in his hips like all of them but he




Leaned heavy on his left leg like he was


Limping standing still     I run quick o-


ver to him I say Yes sir tells me to


Bend down and wipe this     is the truth it was




A spot of bird shit from his shoe


this ain’t     / No kind of story where the nigger says


No I bent down and cleaned his shoe


I can’t     / From down there see the look on the man’s face




From down there at his feet but just as I


Get started     and I think he must have been


Smiling he says Is your name Banjo I


Say No sir my name’s Bill and he     says Ban




jo suits you better     Banjo Yes     and when


I talk to you that’s who you’re gonna be


And I say Yes sir sir your shoe is clean


Now listen     that boy he was nobody




In fact I never saw that boy again


But that name stuck to me


and when you see     / A white boy talking on the screen     that’s him


And when you see me smiling back that’s me

Banjo Yes Talks About His First White Wife



Thing is she hated her


Father     her mother and her brothers     loved


Her cousin but he stopped




Coming around     / After she married me no letters said


He didn’t have a phone


So every Christmas every birthday every Goddamn




Armistice Day I sent that boy a phone     / She didn’t know I did that


but I made sure he knew it was me I sent


The same note every time     Don’t




Worry I got a white boy here he answers our


Calls see     he wanted that and didn’t want it


A nigger     can surround himself with whiteness




But it becomes a wall between him     / And whiteness


and he wants and doesn’t want it

Banjo Yes Remembers His First Car



It wasn’t no


Question of did I steal it nobody no cop


In some of the towns I drove through never saw


A nigger drive alone before     / They were astonished that’s the word for it




In Bakersfield the sheriff followed me


from one     / End of the town to the other he had been


I guess been waiting for


Anything but the circus to pass through




And when he saw the circus coming man     he had to follow it


A black man has to be a circus by himself


a lion-tamer and a clown


A strongman and an acrobat




Money don’t make it     / Stop he gets rich he buys more


white folks tickets


SHANE McCRAE is the author of MuleBloodForgiveness ForgivenessThe Animal Too Big to Kill (winner of Persea Books’ 2014 Lexi Rudnitsky/Editor’s Choice Award), and three chapbooks. His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Seattle Review, The Literary Review, LIT and elsewhere, and he has received a Whiting Writer’s Award and a fellowship from the NEA. He teaches at Oberlin College and in the brief-residency MFA program at Spalding University, and is the book editor for BOAAT Press.