Poems by Shara McCallum

Image Courtesy of rjp. Shared via a Creative Commons license.


The Story of Madwoman and Cockroach

One day she woke to find a roach perched on her nose. Outside the house in which she slept the sun had been making itself felt for hours and had been creeping into her room through the left-open jalousies. But not until the creature flew through the window and landed on her face did she stir.

Perhaps this was the moment in her small life when she came closest to being undone by what she feared. Perhaps she saw the animal as herself, considered for the first time that it existed, as she did, without knowing why.

A child awakened with a start might lament the loss of her unfinished dream, its fragments fading but lodging like shrapnel inside of her. Or she might regard herself as lucky, having been ferried safely from the world of the dead back to that of the waking.

Had she had the time or the wisdom to weigh these choices in the instant the roach alighted, she might have flicked it away, watched it scurry into a crevice in the wall or into the shadows under her bed. But startled, instead she grabbed the insect. And screaming a scream that continues to this day, she crushed it.


The Story of Madwoman and Ixora

she plucked the red flowers from the bush in the garden
——–where tamarinds were strewn and rotting underfoot       she waded like a sovereign
or a god     feeling little remorse for wreckage wrought by whim

——–these flowers were bystanders     in the daily drama     she enacted
to combat boredom
————————–so perhaps hers was an act of cruelty

but she was a child    and whatever eddied around her
———————————–rafted inside the certainty

——–that as these flowers returned each morning
seemingly waiting for her outstretched hand
—————————————————–so day would follow night

she was a child
——————and did not conceive of beauty
——–as something that could end     or

————————-in memory    become unbearable



Shara McCallum was born on October 18, 1972 in Jamaica to Afro-Jamaican and Venezuelan parents and moved to the U.S. at the age of nine. She earned a B.A. from the University of Miami, an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. in Poetry and African American and Caribbean Literature from Binghamton University in New York. Her books of poetry include Song of Thieves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003) and The Water Between Us (1999), winner of the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. Her poems have won a college prize from The Academy of American Poets, been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and appeared in several journals, including The Antioch Review, Chelsea, The Iowa Review, and Verse. McCallum’s poems have been anthologized in The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology (ed. Michael Collier, 2000) and Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century. She is the recipient of a Tennessee Individual Artist Grant in Literature and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. McCallum lives in Pennsylvania and teaches and directs the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. She is also on the faculty of the Stonecoast Low Residency MFA program.