Sharan Strange

Sharan Strange

“I’m very pleased to be among this gathering of poets and lovers of poets and poetry.”

Sharan Strange
Photo: C.B. Claiborne, 1994

Sharan Strange was a founding member of the Dark Room Collective, and served as co-founder and co-curator of the group from 1988 to 1998. At the time of the 1994 conference, Strange had studied at Harvard University and earned her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Callaloo, American Poetry Review, and South Africa’s Agenda, as well as in Best American Poetry and the 2013 Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. Seven years after the Conference, Beacon Press published Strange’s full-length collection Ash (2001), which Sonia Sanchez selected for the Barnard Women Poets Prize. Strange’s poem, “Everyone Was A Mirror,” was featured in the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, and her work has also been exhibited at the Whitney Museum, the Skylight Gallery, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Strange has served as writer-in-residence at several colleges and universities, including Fisk University, Wheaton College, University of California at Davis, and University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and for many years, worked as a contributing editor for Callaloo. She teaches at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and is a board member for Poetry Atlanta.

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In the dream, I am burning the rice. 
I am cooking for God.  I will clean
the house to please Him. So I wash the dishes,
and it begins to burn. It is for luck.
Like rice pelting newlyweds, 
raining down, it is another veil, 
or an offering that suggests
her first duty: to feed him.

Burning, it turns brown, the color 
of my father, whom I never pleased. 
Too late, I stand at his bed, calling. 
He is swathed in twisted sheets,
a heavy mummy that will not 
eat or cry. Will he sleep when 
a tall stranger comes to murder me? 
Will I die this fourth time, or the next? 

When I run it is as if underwater,
slow, sluggish as the swollen grains
rising out of the briny broth to fill the pot,
evicting the steam in low shrieks
like God’s breath sucked back in.
Before I slip the black husk of sleep,
I complete the task. The rice chars,
crumbles to dust, to mix with
the salty water, to begin again.
Published version from Ash (2001).

Barbershop Ritual

Baby brother can't wait. 
For him, the rite of passage 
begins early—before obligatory heists 
of candy & comic books from neighborhood 
stores, before street battles to claim 
turf, before he might gain 
the title "Man of the House" 
before his time. 

Each week, he steps up to the chair, 
the closest semblance of a throne 
he'll ever know, and lays in 
for the cut, the counseling of 
older dudes, cappin' players, men-of-words, 
Greek chorus to the comic-tragic fanfare 
of approaching manhood. 

Baby brother's named for two fathers, 
and each Saturday he seeks them 
in this neutral zone of brotherhood, 
where manhood sprouts like new growth 
week by week and dark hands 
deftly shape identity. 

Head-bowed, church-solemn, 
he sheds hair like motherlove & virginity, 
weightier than Air Jordans & designer 
sweats—euphemistic battle gear. 
He receives the tribal standard: 
a nappy helmet sporting arrows, lightning 
bolts, rows of lines cut in—New World 
scarification—or carved logos (Adidas, 
Public Enemy) and tags, like hieroglyphic 
distress signs to the ancestors: 
Remember us, remember our names!