The New Commandments

TANYA SHIRLEY

There are lanes weaving through Kingston where women
spilling from zinc shacks wear bras and batty riding shorts
to corner shops. Breasts like sling-shots ready to spray
bullets. Big bellies saying they’ve fulfilled the prophecy
of multiplying even in the shadows of poverty. Angels of
God who turn small money into school fees and clean shoes.
Make their own commandments: wear a long weave,
the brownest skin to attract deejays and druggists.
Make men cross eyed at the undulation of your ass.
Block streets with the armor of your body, throw
your pussy to the police, hide small sons in a statue
of soiled thongs, sacrifice the prettiest one to the don
so your family isn’t set on fire while you sleep.
Know how to beat a bitch into oblivion. Guard
tiny territories from squatters buzzing like flies.
Borrow men, borrow land, blow fumes of Kartel’s
Romping Shop into the faces of critics drowning
in their gaping hole of holiness, their daughters screwing
for social media, fires spreading under their beds.
Bless them with the incense of a fragrant spliff, a litany
of bumboclaats, the good old scripture.
There are lanes where women spilling from zinc shacks
pump this city high up on the world’s map. They strip
in the streets and other women allergic to the shine of zinc
turn away from flesh bubbling under the glory of the sun.


Tanya Shirley has published two poetry collections: She Who Sleeps With Bones (Peepal Tree Press, 2009) and The Merchant of Feathers (Peepal Tree Press, 2014). She is a featured poet on http://www.poetryarchive.org. She has read her poems and conducted writing workshops in Venezuela, Canada, the U.S.A., England, Scotland and the Caribbean. Shirley was awarded an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, USA. She teaches in the Department of Literatures in English at The University of the West Indies, Jamaica. She has been writer-in- residence twice at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe and is a proud Cave Canem Fellow. Her second poetry collection, The Merchant of Feathers, was longlisted for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and shortlisted for the Guyana Prize for Literature, Caribbean Award. In 2017 she was awarded a Silver Musgrave Medal from The Council of the Institute of Jamaica for her outstanding contribution in the field of Literature.

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