You leave the house in its stillness
thinking it is near dawn.
The long walk through the dark
you try to recite prayers
but forget the words, remember
only the kneeling,
the feeling of your knees growing numb.
Silver branches of trees
stir the wind, the moon
with her sallow face looks on.
If you had grown up
to become another young girl,
you are sure duppy
would not have found a way in.
In another place
you would have known
the magic phrase.
Before going to bed
would have scattered rice
onto the tile floor, watching
the iridescent husk spill
from your hands.
( editor's note: the Jamaican word duppy is akin to the English words ghost or spirit. )
Miss Sally's Wisdom
Chiniman say yu put purse pon ground,
yu nevah have no money.
When yu was not born yet and yu mother
was only a lickle picknie herself,
I did clean people house to mek ends meet.
And when I walk down the street
and some woman standup pon her verandah,
chatting whole heap a rubbish,
I just gwyan bout mi business same way.
I never so much as miss a step
when I hear her bellow, cooyah, but look
what that woman come to, nuh?
Now to see you like so--
looking like yu lost yu last friend.
Believe me, I understand. I know
what it is to want and not have,
to dream and next ting
yu turn round an, schwoops,
yu life done pass arredi
before yu even tink yu start.
So listen good to yu old granny:
Clutch yu purse pon yu lap, or tight-tight
up against yu chest. But remember,
wanty wanty no getty getty.
( editor's note : the following is the 10th section of a longer poem titled, "Now the Guitar Begins. ")
So it has come to this:
You have become symbol
of all I cannot name.
Once, I imagined you
a bird, a heron wading through saltwater
marshes, mangroves rooted in sand.
A flush of fish in another dream,
your colours brighter than the possibility
of all reefs.
Or a house on stilts,
out in the shallows of the sea,
whittled by salt, wind, and rain.
The truth I hate to admit
even now is this: I was a child
and you, a man, unreachable
from where I stood
gazing up at your face,
a night with few stars.
I did not know you,
then nor now, anymore
it seems than you knew yourself.
Left with the worst of possible choices--
I made you up.
Song Of Thieves
University of Pittsburgh Press
Copyright * 2003 All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Shara McCallum is the winner of the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. Born in Jamaica, she currently lives and works in Memphis. The poems above are taken from her new collection, Songs of Thieves, and are reprinted here with permission from the University of Pittsburgh Press
"Song of Thieves delves into issues of racial identity and politics, the immigrant experience, and the search for home and family histories. In this follow-up to her award-winning debut collection, The Water Between Us (Pittsburgh, 1999), Shara McCallum artfully draws from the language and imagery of her Caribbean background to play a haunting and soulful tune. "
--University of Pittsburgh Press
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