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Free Verse: Shara McCallum

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 18, 2012 - Some say home is where you hang your hat or where the heart is. For Tom Waits it’s anywhere he lays his head. In “The Death of a Hired Man,” Robert Frost says, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to take you in.” This month’s poet finds another conception of home — or the next best thing to it.

Shara McCallum

Dear History

I could tell when my parents stopped believing.
Marcus, Marley, Manley — their gods

deserted them, leaving little
to wring between their hands.

After a time, revolution’s light dims.
Ideals get exchanged for smaller needs,

milk and bread, the crumbs of peace.
In the final days, everyone tried to explain

what had gone wrong: politicians said
tourists would no longer come;

Mummy and Daddy said slavery
was the root; Granny said it was the youth,

killing each other, running wild in the streets.
The night before she and Papa moved to America,

I prayed in the dark of my room
but feared my words

could no longer spiral up to something beyond.
We will come back for you. I promise,

they’d said. When, piece by piece,
my family fled,

we didn’t see the bargain
being struck: to live

in a place where memory
becomes a synonym for home.

from This Strange Land (Alice James Books, 2011)

Shara McCallum is the author of three collections of poetry: This Strange Land (Alice James Books, 2011), Song of Thieves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003), and The Water Between Us (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999). Born in Jamaica, her personal essays have appeared in The Antioch Review, Creative Nonfiction, Witness, and elsewhere. A recipient of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, she currently directs the Stadler Center for Poetry and teaches creative writing and literature at Bucknell University.

Richard Newman, River Styx editor for 15 years, is the author of two full-length poetry collections, "Borrowed Towns" and "Domestic Fugues." He also co-directs the River Styx at Duff's reading series.

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