Shining Rock Poetry Anthology

Poems from Madwoman, by Shara McCallum

Madwoman's Geography

In my first life, I slid
into the length of a snake. Then

sloughed scales for wings.
Was content one hundred years

till the air, as all things must,
lost its charms. After a long time

falling, I landed in the sea.
What could I do but follow

any wake? How else chart
a course than the way a child

plucks flowers from a field--
the eye compelling the hand to reach?

Lucea, Jamaica
at the Hanover Infirmary, 1996

What I saw there I could not carry.
She'd lifted a sheet, revealing her abscess.
I was a young woman then,
travelling toward some notion of home.

But a sheet had been lifted, an abscess revealed.
I'd hoped I might meet myself,
travelled home with some notion
of finding the girl I was in braids.

I'd hoped to meet this younger self
on a coastal road bridging towns,
but another girl with braided hair
waved each morning I arrived.

A crossroad between tourist towns,
Lucea is a place you could miss.
Arriving each morning, I thought
if I looked long enough I'd find

not an idea but the place itself.
Coming to a part of my country I didn't know,
I looked long to find--
liquid pools in opened flesh.

Coming to a country I thought I knew--
a young woman,
liquid and open-fleshed--
I saw there what I could not carry.

Madwoman to Claudette Colvin

Let's face it, girl, if only
          you'd acted like a lady (Not a whore,
                       the tongues start wagging), if only

you'd pirouetted in the right circles,
           looked the part for the role (Mercy,
                        what a shame, the tongues are now clucking),

if only you'd been older, married (At least
           had kept her legs shut
, the heads start shaking) --
                       they might have claimed you,

fashioned you,
           martyred you, sainted you.
                       Oh girl (If only, if only,

the heads are still and always shaking),
           then, and only then,
                       they might have let you play it.


Say morning,
             and a bird trills on a doorstep 
                           outside a kitchen.

Inside, fingers roll johnnycakes,
             dropping balls of dough into oil,
                           splattering, singeing a wrist.

Here, a woman is always
             singing, each note tethering
                           sound to meaning.

The trick is to wait
             on this doorstep forever.
                           The trick is to remember

time is a fish
             swimming through dark water.


When I arrived, did bells ring at the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile?
Or is memory a habitual liar, craving invention after invention?

Oh the monkey business of it all the hullabalooing of the mind,
smug and swinging with the acrobatics of its inventions.

Directionless, I travel to the farthest edges of myself,
cultivating wilderness as if it were an invention.

Even if smoke and mirrors, the beloved remains the rage.
Love, how do I go on being your marvelous invention?

If I sometimes misplace myself, who really can I blame?
The country of loss was my miscalculated invention.

Despite evidence to the contrary, I continue believing in myth.
Shara, you are the most fleeting of my inventions.

The Dream
after Chagall and for Steve

In a house that is not a house
but a boat set sailing
in a landscape where darkened clouds and hills
merge and an angel hovers and a rooster
like a sentinel guards
or inside that house where a man consoles a woman
standing next to the bed where she sits,
a vase of flowers on the table at their side,
love, find us. And find us
inside the farmhouse we rented
which all winter let in cold and mice
through cracks in its stone
where across the field outside our window
deer trekked leaving tracks in snow
as lying in bed we watched.
If love is not this dream of itself
then it must be a waking to this dream.
If it is not a place in time
then it must be the action of placing
a vase of flowers deliberately
on a table inside a square of light.

Originally from Jamaica, Shara McCallum is the author of five books of poetry, including her most recent collection Madwoman, in which these poems appear.

Credit:  Shara McCallum, "Madwoman to Claudette Colbert," "The Dream," "Invention," "Madwoman's Geography," "Exile," and "Lucea, Jamaica," from Madwoman.  Copyright c 2017 by Shara McCallum.  Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of the author and Alice James Books,
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