Blackbox manifold

Issue 14: Shara McCallum


The stone wall that replaces beach in this cove

waits for your feet to navigate it, as the man who drove

beside you—a girl in plaits, in uniform with pleats—

slowed to a crawl to call, Little sister, please,

adding the sound some men make, pss-pss-pss,

that lisping to make you look, to direct your gaze,

as this man, in this inlet, is deliberately pissing

into sand, exposing himself before finishing

with an expert flick of a wrist. Motherfucker

rings in your head as you run faster,

unstrung, not daring look back to see the sun

become a bloody yolk draining the sky of colour, hung

low on the horizon this time of day, this twilight

reprised, this everyday dusking into night.

The Madwoman as Rasta Medusa

I-woman go turn all a Babylon to stone.

I-woman is the Deliverer and the Truth.

Look pon I and feel yu inside calcify.

Look pon I and witness the chasm,

the abyss of yuself rupture. Look pon I

and know what bring destruction.

Yu say I-woman is monstrosity

but is yu gravalicous ways

what mek I come the way I come.

Is yu belief everyone exist fi satisfy

yu wanton wantonness.

Yu think, all these years gone,

and I-woman a come here fi revenge?

But yu wrong. Again is so yu wrong.

I-woman is the Reckoning and Judgment Day.

This face, etch with wretchedness,

these dreads, writhing and hissing

misery, is the mirror of yu shame.

I-woman not the Terror.

I-woman is what birth from Terror.


I’ve been wrong about you so long.

You’re not the colour of war

on Kingston streets. When you stain,

you become rust. You cheat

even the flame tree, more orange

in truth than you in your crimson,

your scarlet robes. Not even

the poppy contains you.

Not even one hundred huddled

in the field. Maybe

like you I am a liar. Or memory

is a story I keep telling myself.

But I understand, being as you are

from a long line of women

who regard facts as suggestion,

who know what it is to burn

inside the closet of night.

Which is why, when I reach for you

and you careen from me

the nearer you come

to my yellow, my alabaster skin,

I still croon your name.

I still insist on you, my lovely,

my death, my life.

Invisible Woman

You are the original incognito.

Transparent so all things shine through you.

She’s the whitest black girl you ever saw,

lighter than “flesh” in the Crayola box.

But, man, look at that ass and look at her shake it

were just words, not sticks nor stones, flung

when dresses were the proof that clung like skin,

when lipstick stained brighter than any blood.

Girl, who is it now you’d want to see you?

And what would that mean: to be seen?

Why not make a blessing of what

all these years you’ve thought a curse?—

you are so everywhere, so nowhere,

in plain sight you walk through walls.

Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, Shara McCallum is the author of four books of poetry: The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems (Peepal Tree Press, 2011); This Strange Land (Alice James Books, 2011), a 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. Recognition for her poetry includes a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. Her poems and personal essays have been published in literary magazines, anthologies, and textbooks in the US, the UK, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Israel and have been translated into Spanish, French, and Romanian. Since 2003, McCallum has been the Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry and a Professor of creative writing and literature at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.