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.