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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, August 31, 2018.
About this Poem 

“This poem is part of a manuscript that bears the same title, No Ruined Stone, and is an alternate account of history, based on the life of eighteenth-century Scottish poet Robert Burns. The real Burns very nearly migrated to Jamaica to work as a bookkeeper on a slave plantation. In the poems, I follow what happens to the fictional Burns I create, who does go to Jamaica, and to one of his imagined descendants, a mixed-race woman born into slavery and who comes of age as emancipation is happening in the British West Indies.”
—Shara McCallum

No Ruined Stone

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 
that distance will maw in you, 
time and place gulching 
when the dead return to demand 
accounting, wanting 
and wanting and 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.

Copyright © 2018 by Shara McCallum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Shara McCallum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 31, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Shara McCallum

Shara McCallum

Shara McCallum's most recent poetry collection, Madwoman (Alice James Books, 2017), won the 2018 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in poetry.

by this poet

poem
In my time, I was a girl who like to spree.
The whole world would open fi mi

if I shift mi hips to strain
the fabric of mi skirt, just so.

Still, I did learn mi lesson
where love concern: if snake bite yu,

when yu see even lizard, crawling
with him belly on ground, yu run.

Now the gal come to mi, say she
poem
Reincarnation, life everlasting--
call it whatever you will--

it will not change
the facts: we are ashes of stellar death.

And, in the end, wishing on shooting stars
is like pinning your hopes

on the last sound of the whistle
trailing off, last chord of the train

sparking on the tracks
then fading into the