from “Passage”

I have come
not to beg nor barter but to enter.

                                                                                                  Who are you seeking?

The past
opens and opens, fleshing me
with loss.
I descend
to find my way,
I who am
haunted and a haunting.

                                                                                                 What are you willing to abandon?

In the before, I continue:
a woman carrying on with the dishes,
the dusting, the sweeping. 
But here, I am the voice of the petitioner.
Dearest, who was once of earth,
Dearest, whose departure has cleft me,
Dearest, who was my country,
my soil, my sun and sky,
every migration 
is a bird taking wing. 

                                                                                                 Is this the place you seek?

And if at last I arrive,
will I find you in that room
with every window like the soul
flung open and flooded
with sounds of the distant sea.
And if I spill
out into the yard, will she be still
there, the child who was me
set down in the grass,
watching the stars blinkering
on and off, their light burning
with the knowledge of death.

                                                                                                  How will you carry this?

I will have to use the flowers to address you.
Wild-blooming frangipani (your cloying scent marks me).
Pointillist-starred ixora (I braid you into my hair).
Indigo-blue plumbago (you obliterate the sky).
Lignum vitae (you foretell all histories).
Roses that grow ragged along the shore (stay with me).

                                                                                                  How will you return to the living?

Called back by the susurrating wind and sea.
Called back by the roots of my hair, dirt
beneath my nails, the body’s sweat and stink.
Called back by their voices, yours
still clenched in my fist. Called back
to all that is matter, bone, and skin,
what fragment of you survives in me
as I open my mouth to speak?


Copyright © 2021 by Shara McCallum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 8, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

‘Passage’ follows a speaker as she enters and moves through the world of the dead in search of someone she’s lost, questioned along her journey by a chorus of voices from the underworld. I wrote the poem in collaboration with composer Marta Gentilucci. moving still—processional crossings is a piece Gentilucci composed for four speaking voices and a vocal ensemble. I and three other poets, Elisa Biagini, Irène Gayraud, and Evie Shockley wrote texts for Gentilucci’s composition and which the four of us delivered, alongside a chorus, in moving still’s premiere on September 23, 2021, at the Biennale in Venice.”
—Shara McCallum