If I forget thee, O Jerusalem
City of Jack Mandora--mi nuh choose none--of Anancy
prevailing over Mongoose, Breda Rat, Puss, and Dog, Anancy
saved by his wits in the midst of chaos and against all odds;
of bawdy Big Boy stories told by peacock-strutting boys, hush-hush
but loud enough to be heard by anyone passing by the yard.
City of market women at Half-Way-Tree with baskets
atop their heads or planted in front of their laps, squatting or standing
with arms akimbo, susuing with one another, clucking
their tongues, calling in voices of pure sugar, come dou-dou: see
the pretty bag I have for you, then kissing their teeth when you saunter off.
City of school children in uniforms playing dandy shandy
and brown girl in the ring--tra-la-la-la-la--
eating bun and cheese and bulla and mangoes,
juice sticky and running down their chins, bodies arced
in laughter, mouths agape, heads thrown back.
City of old men with rheumy eyes, crouched in doorways,
on verandahs, paring knives in hand, carving wood pipes
or peeling sugar cane, of younger men pushing carts
of roasted peanuts and oranges, calling out as they walk the streets
and night draws near, of coconut vendors with machetes in hand.
City where power cuts left everyone in sudden dark,
where the kerosene lamp's blue flame wavered on kitchen walls,
where empty bellies could not be filled,
where no eggs, no milk, no beef today echoed
in shantytowns, around corners, down alleyways.
City where Marley sang, Jah would never give the power to a baldhead
while the baldheads reigned, where my parents chanted
down Babylon--Fire! Burn! Jah! Rastafari! Selassie I!--
where they paid weekly dues, saving for our passages back to Africa,
while in their beds my grandparents slept fitfully, dreaming of America.
City that lives under a long-memoried sun,
where the gunmen of my childhood are today's don's
ruling neighbourhoods as fiefdoms, where violence
and beauty still lie down together. City of my birth--
if I forget thee, who will I be, singing the Lord's song in this strange land?
Originally from Jamaica, Shara McCallum has published four books, most recently The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems and This Strange Land. Her forthcoming collection, Madwoman, will be published in 2017 in the US & UK.
Credit: Shara McCallum, "Psalm for Kingston," from This Strange Land. Copyright 2010, 2011 by Shara McCallum. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of the author and Alice James Books, www.alicejamesbooks.org.