Issue 2 : Spring 2011

About Author:

  • Tanya Shirley

    Tanya Shirley was born and lives in Jamaica. She was awarded an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, USA. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and a past participant in Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops. Her first poetry collection,...


Matie* Shall Not Conquer

You know all men are weak.

You see the way she watches him, you imagine

she has a basket of red apples and a snake

coiled around her belly

but this is the man who made you come

more times than you could count,

you are willing to use the wisdom of women

long dead to keep his eyes in your skin.


Light three blue candles:

the flickering will taper

the conflagration in your blood;

fight big fire with small fire.

Write his name and your name on a piece of paper.

Write her name on another; if you do not know it, be patient,

he will whisper it, as all men do, in his sleep.

On the third piece of paper, write three positive wishes

for your rival, all the time wishing the bitch well.

Negative thoughts are returned to sender.


Place one drop of clove oil on each piece.

Fold papers and put in an envelope, it should be white

like the dress you’re wearing.

Keep it under your mattress for seven nights.

On the eighth night when only the owl’s eyes are upon you,

burn the envelope in a big, glass bowl.

Do not set your house on fire.

Scatter the ashes outside, far away from your dogs;

like ganja seeds, it will drive them crazy.


In the morning, he will come to you

with a rose in his mouth,

and her name will be mud on the soles of his feet.



*the name used in Jamaican dancehall culture for “the woman on the side” or the “mistress”


Waiting for Rain (Again)

I am thinking of the drought, the parched earth

outside my door, the plant the gardener killed

with water from the pool; in desperate times,

we try everything. I have mastered the art of bathing

from a bucket. I know a lady with seven water tanks

in her forever-green back yard; she says they’re not enough.

There are poor people in this country

who’ve never had running water, who carry pails

full from the river on their heads.

Sandwiched in pews, their only prayer is for rain

to start their produce growing again perhaps

before the next set of school fees are due.

Poor people in thick circles dancing for rain.

Obeah men getting extra business for rain.

Still it has not rained.

And who knew an empty tap could have me in tears.

Perhaps, I am grieving for all the dying things,

people in this desert looking out, looking in.

Perhaps, I am giving up myself as a tank, as a city river,

an oasis for all this thirst.

Let them come and drink of me, my brokenness

spilling in chards of tears.


Every Hoe Have Him Stick A Bush

Our resident mad man (I imagine every neighborhood has one)

would wake us every Saturday morning with a barrage

of bomboclaats, rassclaats and other claats.

He was regular like the sound of my neighbor’s washing

machine, crying children, her Spanish-speaking husband.

But I should have known insanity precludes consistency.

He’s started to curse at least two days in the week,

sometimes early morning, sometimes late at night.

I lie awake wondering how long he’ll take,

what new phrase he’ll invent. Of late he’s been shouting

(he’s never quiet), A wha’ do you? Eeh? Eeh?

There’s never an answer, never another voice.

I imagine he’s questioning himself.

Perhaps even in madness we’re frustrated

with our shortcomings, struggling towards sanity,

the way the sane amongst us struggle against insanity.

I wonder what our neighborhood would sound like without him.

I’ve always been drawn to public outbursts,

when we forget to leave the dirty linens inside,

when we need the world to witness our existence.

One Saturday morning a man came to the mad man’s house,

(it’s not really a house; he’s the caretaker of an unfinished scheme,

a shrine to the economic down turn) warning him

to leave his woman alone. He banged on the zinc gate.

Said he knew his woman was in there with him even now.

I wondered if he had the wrong address. I dressed quickly.

Stood in the road with others brave enough to flaunt their nosiness.

After much machete wielding, banging, shouting and swearing

he jumped on his bicycle, riding away in a defeated dirt cloud.

Soon the mad man emerged with a woman by his side.

She looked clean and not at all ugly. She avoided our eyes but he

walked towards us all the while screaming, Wha’ di rass unuh looking on?

We dispersed quickly, smelling the violence on his tongue.

I returned to my house and the echo of my breathing.


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