Tanya Shirley

Image by Author photograph © Arlene Brown.

Poem introduction

I wrote this poem when I was living in the States attending University of Maryland and going through an awful bout of homesickness.

Sunday Ritual

Sunday Ritual

I would buy a bottle of cheap red wine
keep it on the dining room table
like a fine sculptured statue,
until Sunday came
when I would pour its contents,
pretending it was the ocean
fermented to red,
into a fake crystal glass and drink
glass after glass after glass
until all that remained was the bloody bottom of the sea.

Sundays were always hard on my heart, easy on my pen.
I was never a poet then, just a girl
longing to be home
in the presence of my mother’s complaining:
“Why you young people don’t like church? Eh?
The old choir so old that all of them combined
don’t have a full mouth of teeth.”

To be home again,
I would give the old people all my teeth.
Hand-wrap them and deliver them at the altar
like a mash-mouth virgin.
Here, my mouth is full but my tongue is numb.
Just for remembrance, I talk patwa to the furniture.
The brown couch is a broad-back woman
with a basket of fruits on her head
and three sons at home sleeping.
The coffee table is always my father,
stained in the middle and most days left unpolished.
The snow stuck to the patio door is the ripe belly
of a coconut I speak to while eating.
Here you must turn food into language.
Cook tin ackee and fresh codfish
until the aroma says,
“Mawning, how you do? Long time no see.”

On Sundays the heater is set to sunshine
and with my breasts drooping in a floral cotton wrap,
sweat trickling past my navel into my communion cup,
I curl up and die another day in this place.

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