By Shara McCallum
For Dora Sandybird
There never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.
— Wallace Stevens
Hello darling, she calls,
leaning over a washed-out wooden railing,
standing in lilac dress and grey knitted cap,
in full morning light, framed
by a splintering door. Or —
perched on her porch,
gaze absent until someone enters
her view. Then eyes snap back,
an arm lifts in greeting.
She descends cement blocks
doubling as stairs with a speed
and grace of motion
belying her age — her body,
one long line of longing.
Trellised at its base by weeds sprouting
lavender flowers, by a vine that froths
white stars, another — maybe pumpkin —
that roots and wraps and climbs,
entering the hull, this fifteen-foot fishing boat
almost eclipses her face,
the house, the whole of this scene.
Docked in her yard on emptied oil drums,
its paint chips, fading more daily;
wood rots, worn by salt, sun, and rain.
Still a sign stenciled on the stern
remains legible: West Coast,
reminding all who pass this way
exactly where we are.
This time of morning the sun
is a fat yellow lollipop,
a mound of rounded butter
arranged on a bone china plate.
Beyond her house, I pick my way
down the rocky path that will open
suddenly unto the sea. Bougainvillea —
dark purple and fuchsia — desert rose
and frangipani let go their blooms,
petals browning at the edges, blossoms
strewn on the ground, as if a palanquin
bearing some king or queen
went by moments before
I arrived on the scene.
Her mind settles for its own order,
resequencing images caught
inside the gears of language,
worked-over by the machinery of age;
settles for an order that reduces the past
to a smattering of phrases,
looped tape that plays each time we meet:
I had my swim already this morning.
My father was a fisherman.
Mr Stevens, on some matters we can agree:
there is no world for her
but the one she makes. And each day,
compelled by forces not one of us can fathom,
makes again and again.
But about others, I fear now
you were wrong: no one
gets to sing beyond the genius of the sea.
Aquamarine dream, original
mystery, the sea closes itself to scrutiny
like pods my daughter collects
on our walks along its shores.
She shakes and we hear rattling.
But when I split husks
no seeds spill into her cupped hands.
The sea contains its wisdom,
bewitching and bewildering
sailors and fishermen,
their daughters and travellers, alike.
Mornings I take the path heading
to the sea, not to swim
as she guesses, tethering points
at which our lives intersect,
but to run along the shore line, navigating
variable tides and my body’s limits.
Her voice is part of a chorus
I cannot outrun: My father
was a fisherman, you know?
Her voice is part of an order
that imprisons as it consoles:
You going to the sea?
Alright. You go.
Shara McCallum is the author of three books of poems: The Water Between Us (1999), Song of Thieves (2003), and This Strange Land (forthcoming, 2011). Her New and Selected Poems will be published in 2011 by Peepal Tree Press. Originally from Jamaica, she lives with her family in central Pennsylvania, where she directs the Stadler Centre for Poetry and teaches creative writing and literature at Bucknell University.