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Poetry Friday

Lord of the hopeless also dear     Hat-Soak

Pole-in-the-Canal and Red-Tie Father     Son

And Holy Ghost not     in that order break

The rottenness of those who torture one

Of Thy least wrath-deserving exiles me

Not     wholly undeserving     no     but some

And isn’t it the some that counts with Thee

O     Gondola also as the trees pass warm

Overhead I     can close my eyes and they

Are almost not     burning and this is any

River to the sea O     Lord I do not say

Release me call me home forgive my many

Sins I say Lord forgive my torturers

Who hate my faults     as if my faults were theirs

— Shane McCrae

This poem originally appeared in Image 54.

Shane McCrae’s poems capture the start-stop nature of conversation, interior monologue and spontaneous prayer. Amelia Klein, writing in the Boston Review, called this “the sound of the subconscious.” She notes that his work belongs alongside the great poets of troubled belief: Herbert, Donne, Hopkins.

This sonnet, in particular, has the quality of a dream or an ecstatic vision. The gondolier might be an angel, or Charon ferrying souls of the recently dead, the broken, the tortured, the hopeless, across the River Styx. The poem ends with a cry of barbed compassion that is heartbreakingly human, as the speaker, in what seems like a last breath, seeks not the end of his own exile or forgiveness of his sins, but forgiveness for his lifetime’s torturers,

Who hate my faults     as if my faults were theirs

But that forgiveness will not come without the breaking of their “rottenness.” If God is good, forgiveness will also mean justice.

— Jessica Mesman

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Shane McCrae

Shane McCrae is the author of several poetry collections, most recently The Gilded Auction Block (2019). His honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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