, June 25, 2024

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No Ruined Stone

  •   2 min reads
No Ruined Stone
SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

Shara McCal­lum nev­er uses the word ​“haunt”, but the poem is about the haunt­ing of those who have gone before. Yet the haunt­ing is pur­pose­ful. It is shot through with the poet’s sense that she owes the dead some account­abil­i­ty, and the dead seem to agree. As nec­es­sary as it is to read ​“No Ruined Stone” as a broad med­i­ta­tion on the lega­cy of a trou­bled his­to­ry, (the poem, ​“No Ruined Stone” is the title poem of her new col­lec­tion that, among oth­er things, explores the impli­ca­tions of transat­lantic slav­ery), at its emo­tion­al core, is a ten­der account­ing of loss and mem­o­ry. This grand­moth­er, one sens­es, is also haunt­ing by inhab­it­ing every­thing the poet sees around her. This fierce pres­ence is the unusu­al but quite famil­iar theme of her elegy.

By Shara McCallum

When the dead return
they will come to you in dream
and in waking, will be the bird
knocking, knocking against glass, seeking
a way in, will masquerade
as the wind, its voice made audible
by the tongues of leaves, greedily
lapping, as the waves’ self-made fugue
is a turning and returning, the dead
will not then nor ever again
desert you, their unrest
will be the coat cloaking you,
the farther you journey
from them the more
distance will maw in you,
time and place gulching
when the dead return and demand
accounting, wanting
everything you have to give and nothing
will quench or unhunger them
as they take all you make as offering.
Then tell you to begin again.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Shara McCallum, “No Ruined Stone” from No Ruined Stone (Alice James Books, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2021 by The Poetry Foundation.

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