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.

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