Two Poems

Poetry / Shara McCallum

:: Ghazal: Invention ::

These days in what passes for self-discovery,
we flit through hours of our own invention.

Abandoned, I travel to the western edge of myself,
cultivating wilderness as an invention.

Snow in April troubles my faith in redemption.
Or is time one more ill-conceived invention?

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

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

Oh the monkey business of the mind, swinging from thought to thought:
smug, self-satisfied with its acrobatic inventions.

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

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

:: Ghazal: Now I’m a Mother ::

What does the world look like? Sublime, you ask, now I’m a mother?
Sometimes. But, thing is, I also suck limes now I’m a mother.

Watch me whirl, a spinning top, kaleidoscopic universe of hurry.
Always in a flurry, I’m anxiety’s mime now I’m a mother.

Everything I’ve said and done has come back to bite me in the ass.
Humility’s the lesson I’m learning—time after time—now I’m a mother.

You hear the same lament on talk shows, in self-help books, at water coolers:
I was too blind/young/foolish to see. I was in my prime. Now I’m a mother.

My friend expounds: each of you are remote, a theory based on his own mother.
I can’t help wondering—is loneliness my crime now I’m a mother?

In the end, I couldn’t keep up the charade: my child figured out I was no God.
What a relief! It was exhausting, perfection’s climb. Now, I’m a mother.

Nothing about it is sublime? you try again. Younger version of me, take heart:
yes (at times) days chime a perfect rhyme now I’m a mother.

My real name’s Dispenser-of-Bandaids but call me Earth, if you would rather.
It’s all the same to me. Even Shara is just a pseudonym now I’m a mother.


From the writer

:: Account ::

The ghazal is a poetic form I came across in my twenties when I first read The Country Without a Post Office by Agha Shahid Ali. I have been attempting it since. While I am a free-verse poet, I enjoy working with structural and conceptual motifs, whether pre-ordained or of my own making. With traditional forms, I am most interested in what I consider their organic rather than mathematical precepts: which is to say the reasons they have persisted, some like the ghazal across hundreds of years and geographic expanses. Since many of the poetic forms we English-language poets have taken into our tradition have their roots in other languages, peoples, times, and places, the historical and cultural imperatives of these forms are what I consider most when working in them (even understanding that such essentials are neither fixed nor can be fully translated). Because meters aren’t consonant between languages, the use of meter as a defining feature of any borrowed form makes less sense to me, seeming prompted by the fashion in English-language poetry at the time of the form’s entry or by the fact that English has the habit of absorbing and erasing the origins of whatever it comes into contact with. When writing ghazals, the principle to which I attach is the idea that each couplet is a discrete, self-contained world that yet speaks to the other couplets in the poem through the use of refrain—repetition and echo. Sometimes I use both refrains, as in “Ghazal: Now I’m a Mother,” which sounds that phrase intact at the end of each couplet and adds the chime of the penultimate rhymed word preceding the phrase; other times, as in “Ghazal: Invention,” I repeat only the single word, a fainter reverberation. This decision is influenced by what happens in the first few couplets I draft, which signals to me if the poem wants to be a ghazal and whether I will wrestle with one refrain or two. In thinking about the ghazal, I have also considered Ali’s pairing of it with the sonnet in his illuminating essay, reprinted as the introductory essay to his anthology on the form, Ravishing Disunities. Particularly as the ghazal and sonnet are the forms to which I most return, I have come to think of them as two sisters who love each other deeply yet fight fiercely: the ghazal, launching her argument through her dazzling displays of non-linear logic; and the sonnet, who is the seemingly less showy rhetorician yet deft and swift in delivering her final blow. Still, with form as with people, even these distinctions are too simplistic; for inside each of us lies the shadow of our opposite.


From Jamaica, Shara McCallum is the author of The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems (Peepal Tree Press, 2011), This Strange Land (Alice James Books, 2011), finalist for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Song of Thieves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and The Water Between Us (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999), winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for Poetry. She’s received a Witter Bynner Fellowship, an NEA Poetry Fellowship, and other awards. She directs the Stadler Center for Poetry and teaches at Bucknell University.