Thursday, 11 August 2022

American Life in Poetry: No Ruined Stone

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Shara McCallum never uses the word “haunt,” but the poem is about the haunting of those who have gone before.

Yet the haunting is purposeful. It is shot through with the poet’s sense that she owes the dead some accountability, and the dead seem to agree.

As necessary as it is to read “No Ruined Stone” as a broad meditation on the legacy of a troubled history (the poem, “No Ruined Stone” is the title poem of her new collection that, among other things, explores the implications of transatlantic slavery), at its emotional core, is a tender accounting of loss and memory.

This grandmother, one senses, is also haunting by inhabiting everything the poet sees around her.

This fierce presence is the unusual but quite familiar theme of her elegy.

No Ruined Stone
By Shara McCallum
May 2018: for my grandmother

When the dead return
they will come to you in dream
and in waking, will be the bird
knocking, knocking against glass, seeking
a way in, will masquerade
as the wind, its voice made audible
by the tongues of leaves, greedily
lapping, as the waves’ self-made fugue
is a turning and returning, the dead
will not then nor ever again
desert you, their unrest
will be the coat cloaking you,
the farther you journey
from them the more
distance will maw in you,
time and place gulching
when the dead return and demand
accounting, wanting
everything you have to give and nothing
will quench or unhunger them
as they take all you make as offering.
Then tell you to begin again.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Shara McCallum, “No Ruined Stone” from No Ruined Stone (Alice James Books, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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