Psalm for Kingston
_____If I forget thee, O Jerusalem
City of Jack Mandora—mi nuh choose none—of Anancy
_____prevailing over Mongoose, Breda Rat, Puss, and Dog, Anancy
__________saved by his wits in the midst of chaos and against all odds;
_____of bawdy Big Boy stories told by peacock-strutting boys, hush-hush
but loud enough to be heard by anyone passing by the yard.
City of market women at Half-Way-Tree with baskets
_____atop their heads or planted in front of their laps, squatting or standing
__________with arms akimbo, susuing with one another, clucking
_____their tongues, calling in voices of pure sugar, come dou-dou: see
the pretty bag I have for you, then kissing their teeth when you saunter off.
City of school children in uniforms playing dandy shandy
_____and brown girl in the ring—tra-la-la-la-la—
__________eating bun and cheese and bulla and mangoes,
_____juice sticky and running down their chins, bodies arced
in laughter, mouths agape, heads thrown back.
City of old men with rheumy eyes, crouched in doorways,
_____on verandahs, paring knives in hand, carving wood pipes
__________or peeling sugar cane, of younger men pushing carts
_____of roasted peanuts and oranges, calling out as they walk the streets
and night draws near, of coconut vendors with machetes in hand.
City where power cuts left everyone in sudden dark,
_____where the kerosene lamp’s blue flame wavered on kitchen walls,
__________where empty bellies could not be filled,
_____where no eggs, no milk, no beef today echoed
in shantytowns, around corners, down alleyways.
City where Marley sang, Jah would never give the power to a baldhead
_____while the baldheads reigned, where my parents chanted
__________down Babylon—Fire! Burn! Jah! Rastafari! Selassie I!—
_____where they paid weekly dues, saving for our passages back to Africa,
while in their beds my grandparents slept fitfully, dreaming of America.
City that lives under a long-memoried sun,
_____where the gunmen of my childhood are today’s dons
__________ruling neighbourhoods as fiefdoms, where violence
_____and beauty still lie down together. City of my birth—
if I forget thee, who will I be, singing the Lord’s song in this strange land?
Originally from Jamaica, Shara McCallum is the author of four books of poetry: The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems, This Strange Land, a finalist for the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Song of Thieves, and The Water Between Us, winner of the 1998 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for Poetry. For her poems, she has received awards and fellowships, including a 2013 Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared in journals, anthologies, and textbooks in the US, UK, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Israel and been translated into Spanish and Romanian. She lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she is Director of the StadlerCenter for Poetry and Professor of English at BucknellUniversity.