Poetry / Shara McCallum

:: Sorrow ::

There are too many poems on the subject of sorrow.
Why pile one more on this dung heap of sorrow?

Once upon a time always promises wonder. We remember,
too late, the breadcrumb-less woods of sorrow.

You fall asleep nightly rehearsing a lie:
Tomorrow I’ll end it, my love affair with sorrow.

A woman is singing again. Who is she this time?
No matter. Her voice grinds the whetstone of sorrow.

What a choice we’re given: to hold on to the dead
or let them vanish to try to vanquish our sorrow.

I speak my name out loud into my shiny new iPhone.
On the screen, Siri spells it out for me: sorrow.


From the writer

:: Account ::

I’ll begin on a lighter note regard­ing the poem’s ori­gin sto­ry. I received my first iPhone a few years ago, and at first, when using the voice recog­ni­tion soft­ware, “Shara” would be tran­scribed as “sor­row.” Siri cor­rect­ed this after a short time, but the irony of this slip­page of lan­guage was not lost on me, and I jot­ted down two lines that led to this poem. Hav­ing worked with the ghaz­al before, I heard in those lines a tongue-in-cheek “sig­na­ture” that is a fea­ture of every ghazal’s clos­ing cou­plet, and I decid­ed to write a ghaz­al using “sor­row” as the poem’s refrain. Oth­er cou­plets that fol­lowed in the draft­ing of the poem came, like the first one I wrote, in a voice dark­ly humorous—addressing in angu­lar fash­ion a sub­ject that typ­i­cal­ly announces itself ele­gia­cal­ly. But no mat­ter the tone, the idea of the ele­gy was under­pin­ning the poem.

It’s not real­ly rock­et sci­ence to deduce that with more time on the plan­et the chance of accu­mu­lat­ing loss­es increas­es. These days, I watch myself and oth­ers around me hav­ing to exert greater and greater efforts to dig our­selves out from under “sor­row.” Some­times the source of it might be traced to the dai­ly news and the sense of impend­ing doom that accom­pa­nies the major­i­ty of the reports from around the globe. Some­times the trig­ger is the death of some­one near to us—forcing us to face mor­tal­i­ty anew—or a less dire per­son­al loss that is yet keen­ly felt, or some fail­ing in our­selves we con­front. Some­times, the ori­gins aren’t acces­si­ble or know­able. Nonethe­less, the feel­ing of sor­row per­vades. The ghaz­al, with its obses­sive refrain, allowed me to med­i­tate on the kind of sad­ness that goes beyond the pass­ing blues, the kind of melan­choly or grief that over­stays its wel­come until we feel we can­not extract it from who we have become.


The poem includ­ed in this issue will appear in Shara McCal­lum’s fifth book, Mad­woman (to be pub­lished in Jan­u­ary 2017 by Alice James Books in the US and Peepal Tree Press in the UK). Orig­i­nal­ly from Jamaica, McCal­lum lives in Penn­syl­va­nia where she teach­es and directs the Stadler Cen­ter for Poet­ry at Buck­nell University.