Tanya Shirley

Image by Author photograph © Arlene Brown.

The Distance Between Us

Tanya Shirley

The Distance Between Us

Tanya Shirley

Poem introduction

This poem is for my wonderful sister, Tanice Gonsalves.

The Distance Between Us

For Tanice

We found him in front of the garage
on an ordinary morning as we
walked overburdened with our mother’s
briefcase and bags full of files.

You were a young woman by then
home for summer holidays –
the house had long adjusted to the
absence of stray animals.

You scooped him up, pressed his green
plumage to the warmth of your
breasts, assessed his neck was broken.
Perhaps turning to search for

a distant flock, he flew head first
into the grey column of our garage.
In the house you moved quickly, rubbed him
down with white rum, wrapped him in

an old pillow case, poured sugar and water
in his mouth – his beak barely opening,
his eyes clamped shut. You cooed to him,
Your voice airy like the clouds.

From the doorway I watched your skin
burn to ash, your body rise from the
floorboards to meet green and yellow wings.
I figured the bird was dead.

At night you placed him by the window
in a box padded with old newspapers.
One morning I entered your room, you sat
in a Buddha trance; your patient

flew from your shoulder to the window to the fan
casting a trail of golden light. The walls
beamed; your room took flight. The day before you
left for college, he said, Polly wants a cracker,

Polly wants a cracker, Polly wants a cracker
so many times, you were sure he would
survive without you. You walked to the gate
and set him free. One week after you left

we found him cold and stiff under your closed window.
Our silence was thick as the dirt we shovelled
for his shallow grave. We never wanted you to learn that
in your absence, some of us died.

From She Who Sleeps With Bones (Peepal Tree Press, 2009) copyright © Tanya Shirley 2009, used by permission of the author and the publisher.


Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley reading from her Poems

1What I Learned in Grenada

2To The Man Who Tends My Grandmother’s Grave

3Let This Be Your Praise

4Montego Bay

5Standing Outside the Circle

6Dining at Customs


8A Chant Against Fear

9Breathing Art

10Where is God in All of This?


12The Distance Between Us

13Out of Body

14Upon Meeting a Woman by the Name of Melba

15My Christian Friend


17A West Indian Poem

18Roll Call

19Grandpa in the Departure Lounge

20Colour Me Dis, Colour Me Dat


22The Power of Prayer 23Some Lessons You Never Learn

24Waiting for Rain


26Victorian Romance

27Sunday Ritual

28The Shifting Ground

29Matie Shall not Conqueur

30A Long Story