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In Case We Never Meet

A brand new poem. For book three? Why not dream?

 

In Case We Never Meet

You ought to know

I was kind to children and small animals

and never awoke one day

without underlying sadness.

 

That I overtipped waitresses,

at breakfast especially,

hated small talk and early mornings

and had the most annoying compulsion

to read the last page of a book

first.

 

Loved a great many people,

but not all at once

or together at parties.

That I miss

smoking, every single day,

even 25 years on.

And my lovely father,

always.

 

You ought to know

I am scared of the dark

yet fiercely drawn to it.

And at my happiest in the ocean

or on it,

That I once valued intelligence in people

over just about everything.

But you should also know

I got smarter

and that changed:

Now it’s kindness.

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Ode for Mrs. William Settle

Above the Middle West, truth and beauty
are one though never meant to be.
 

No perhaps or possiblys … no qualifiers at all …  Philip Levine remains my favourite living poet. He sets an impossibly high bar but we learn most from the very best; I am astonished by his talent.

In this magical one to his mother, “Ode for Mrs. William Settle,” he blesses her for giving him more than he gave her.

Ode for Mrs. William Settle

by Philip Levine

In Lake Forest, a suburb of Chicago,
a woman sits at her desk to write
me a letter. She holds a photograph
of me up to the light, one taken
17 years ago in a high school class
in Providence. She sighs, and the sigh
smells of mouthwash and tobacco.
If she were writing by candlelight
she would now be in the dark, for
a living flame would refuse to be fed
by such pure exhaustion. Actually
she is in the dark, for the man she’s about to address in her odd prose had a life span of one 125th of a second
in the eye of a Nikon, and then he
politely asked the photographer to
get lost, whispering the request so as
not to offend the teacher presiding. Those students are now in their thirties,
the Episcopal girls in their plaid skirts
and bright crested blazers have gone
unprepared, though French-speaking, into
a world of liars, pimps, and brokers.
2.7% have died by their own hands,
and all the others have considered
the act at least once. Not one now
remembers my name, not one recalls
the reading I gave of César Vallejo’s
great “memoriam” to his brother Miguel,
not even the girl who sobbed and
had to be escorted to the school nurse,
calmed, and sent home in a cab. Evenings
in Lake Forest in mid-December drop
suddenly; one moment the distant sky
is a great purple canvas, and then it’s
gone, and no stars emerge; however,
not the least hint of the stockyards
or slaughterhouses is allowed to drift
out to the suburbs, so it’s a deathless
darkness with no more perfume than
cellophane. “Our souls are mingling
now somewhere in the open spaces
between Illinois and you,” she writes.
When I read the letter, two weeks
from now, forwarded by my publisher,
I will suddenly discover a truth
of our lives on earth, and I’ll bless
Mrs. William Settle of Lake Forest
for giving me more than I gave
her, for addressing me as Mr. Levine,
the name my father bore, a name
a man could take with courage
and pride into the empire of death.
I’ll read even unto the second page,
unstartled by the phrase “By now
you must have guessed, I am
a dancer.” Soon snow will fall
on the Tudor houses of the suburbs,
turning the elegant parked sedans
into anonymous mounds; the winds
will sweep in over the Rockies
and across the great freezing plains
where America first died, winds
so fierce boys and men turn their backs
to them and simply weep, and yet
in all that air the soul of Mrs. William
Settle will not release me, not even
for one second. Male and female,
aged and middle-aged, we ride it out
blown eastward toward our origins,
one impure being become wind. Above
the Middle West, truth and beauty
are one though never meant to be.

 

hayley and brooke

If I Could, I Would

I often wonder if advice ever really helps us in our everyday lives. Or do we have to live through something ourselves for the wisdom to stick to us?

My twin nieces turned 18 this month and I have been thinking of what I would most want them to know at 18 that I didn’t.  I mean, what’s all this learning by our mistakes and the resulting heartache if we can’t pass on some heads up?

What do I wish someone had told me? Where to begin? I’m exhausted thinking about it and how can I not fall short of such a lofty, impossible goal? But you’re not living if you’re not trying.

Out of that came this piece, “If I Could I Would,”  about trying to concoct a poem that would do it all: serve as the girls’ steadfast template, guide them through whatever may stand in their way. A piece devoutly to be wished for sure and also a concrete and lasting way to remind them, through their very own poem, what they mean to me and the riches they have brought to my life.

 

Easter morning once

A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.

Fresh perms and white cotton gloves.

Boring knee socks and yearning to wear stockings like my older sisters.

My wee brother at my side in his clip on bowtie and tartan vest and pressed trousers.

We four positioned, solemnly,

on the stone steps before Mass for the obligatory photo-taking

in the harsh sunlight of the still chilly April morning.

Our secret smiles as we huddled together

counting  the days until summer, warmth

and freedom.

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The Oscars, Scorcese-slamming, and Raspberry Squares.

Movie acting is about covering the machinery. Stage acting is about exposing the machinery. In cinema, you should think the actor is playing himself, if he’s that good. It looks very easy. It should. But it’s not, I assure you.
– Michael Caine

I love the Oscars. But I hate the cringeworthy “In Memoriam” segment. So incredibly awkward when certain photos evoke total silence from the audience.

Sorry, Ernest Borgnine. Ya reap what ya sow.

Counting the hours ‘til the curtain: Do not judge me! ‘Tis my Super Bowl!

I come by my passion honestly. When I was growing up we had a ball watching them, myself and my mother and my sisters all together. Mom would let us stay up right to the end, as long as we didn’t make a fuss getting up for school the next morning. We were quite happy with that trade off. Mom would make these insanely good jam squares of hers and we’d have pot after pot of tea. I provided colour commentary throughout, more knowledgeably as the years progressed… Who was squiring who (whom?) What were their movies? When were they last nominated? Who was wearing who? (Just try and stop me.) My kingdom for a Photoplay!

Lovely memories… I can still taste the piquant raspberry in my mouth …

The next morning I replayed the whole thing in a montage for my classmates. The early-to-bed brigade who didn’t have nearly as cool a mother as I did.

On to this year’s contenders…

I not so humbly offer the following: actively avoid “The Wolf of Wall Street,” if it’s not too late.

Soul-depleting.

For me it was entirely derivative, shamelessly so. Scorsese disappointed me, and this is from a huge fan. (Raging Bull and Casino are in my top ranks.) It was Good Fellas unabashedly revisited, but across the river and with higher rents: the ongoing self-satisfied narrative, the occasional conspiratorial glance at the camera by Di Caprio, the ever-tracking frenetic camera, the overheads,  the omnipresent feeling of someone out of breath; a train at top speed without brakes, like that ridiculously entertaining movie I may have watched three, ok, four times.

The strange thing is that I became nauseated by all the excess, like when you eat the caramels out of the pot instead of waiting to coat the apples.  Inured to the debauchery as ‘twere. And it sank to parody I felt; The palsied Di Caprio crawling to the car. (And who amongst us, kind sir, has not?) That said, he was wonderful in the part of Belfort. (I see Belfort actually did 22 months for money laundering, which I did not know.)

I watched 12 Years A Slave, a very difficult film, and I agree with current opinion circulating that it’s unadulterated torture porn. Can’t imagine any redeeming value there. There may be ways to elucidate when it comes to racism and slavery but a film like this I feel is not one.

Thought Matthew McConaghey could not possibly top his turn in HBO’s “True Detective.” He is transcendent in the lead role. Wrong. He does just that, in Dallas Buyers Club.  I’m for him for the win on Monday. Although Christian Bale in American Hustle was sensational. That opening five minute scene where he painstakingly configures his hairpiece in front of the mirror is a master class in itself.

The whole Woody Allen thing could be hard to watch, if in fact he shows up. (Rumor has it he’ll be a no-show.) The whole art vs. artist debate is a thorny one, is it not? If we held artists’ morality up to the light we may never want to look at a piece of art again. Consider Picasso alone, that raging misogynist. Vermeer. Rodin. And of course  Carrot Top. Don’t even get me started on Gallagher.

Stay tuned.

 

 

winter snowball hearts

” ‘Twas Four Nights Without Heat”

We are still not back on the power grid but…

We do finally have a working generator as of about two hours ago. Finally found someone who knew what was wrong with it.

Who knew a generator could be so complicated? And so cranky? When the repair guy-slash-pure-genius-of-a-person successfully cranked it up I momentarily thought it was the cherubim and seraphim serenading me. Maybe it’s a seasonal apparition…

So this is what heat feels like? The house is slowly… inexorably… creakily… responding, along with my extremities. The clothes I have been too cold to remove for the past 88 hours are now in a little pile in the backyard awaiting the administration of a blow torch. My hair has so much static cling I look like Chubakka. (sp?) I have slept a total of two hours in four nights and I woke up three times in that two hours – just to check I still had a pulse.

It’s been a harrowing four days – how low can a core body temperature plummet and still support life as we know it? The jury is still out…I am beginning to form intelligible sentences (or as much as they ever were) now so this must be a promising sign. It must.

Amazing how much can happen during a relatively short time without any heat or power. For starters I know every employee at my nearest Tim Horton’s on a first-name basis, along with the birthdates of all their children, grandchildren and grade school teachers, and any and all of their dietary challenges. I now know exactly the warm fuzzies Norm felt when he went into Cheers and heard his name cheerfully resounding.   In my case: “Tricia!”

It is amazing how many life stories I have been told over the past four days while sitting waiting for any trace of feeling to return to my ten digits and for my smartphone to charge. And not all of those stories are repeatable. Anywhere. trust me. Suffice it to say I have — all my life — had a face that says “Do tell me your story, even the parts that you wouldn’t tell your therapist.”

I have been added to 42 Christmas Card lists and that is at drive through windows alone.

On a more general theme, Timmy’s new and roundly heralded gingerbread doughnuts I am sad to report are overrated although I didn’t come to that realization until my fourth dozen. Note to consumers: Stick with the classic and always reliable Canadian Maple and/or Apple Fritter.

Interesting side note: The coffee shop employees handing me my first coffee of the day within a heated environment began taking on the appearance of angels with actual wings. But that could be simply caffeine withdrawal.

Have a wonderful Christmas full of laughs and great food and even better company. Oh, and best of all: heat.

 

 

 

Relay for Life

I have been committed emotionally to the Cancer Society’s Relay for Life since losing my mother far too many years ago to stomach cancer. My lovely Scottish mother was my touchstone and I miss her every day of my life. As a poet I pour much of my grief into my work – just as I did when I lost my father the year following. I think my poetry helped save my life (yet again) in those dark days after both were taken from me too young. If you’d like to read some of these poems I wrote about their lives visit my website at http://www.triciamccallum.com Once on my homepage choose the heading entitled “Time Was”on the left hand side menu bar. I would love you to come and visit. Some day when you find some quiet time. And bring a cup of hot tea.

Sadly, my commitment to helping stop this modern day scourge was forged even deeper this past year when I learned my younger brother had been diagnosed with Stage Three colon cancer. The news was devastating for all of us, hitting us like a bolt out of the blue, in particular his young family. He has just completed a six-month course of chemo and soldiers on with such an upbeat wonderful attitude he humbles me. He jokes and makes light of it all, making it easier for everyone who loves him. And many do. We all pray he remains in remission.

Returned from Eleuthera!

We returned to below zero temps so it wasn’t the most eloquent of homecomings. But still good to be back and ensconced. And this helped immeasurably to soften the blow…

Walking in to a warm house with a stocked fridge and handmade notes from the two wee kids next door. Evan, the 4 year old, launched himself at me from across the threshold, a long hug first, and then, when he had collected himself, demanded to know just how long we were away. Arms folded on chest, scowling, looking quite miffed.

I am ecstatic to report that the news on my brother Scott is good. His CAT results came in two days ago and showed nothing of significance. But the oncologist cautions it is early days. (This doctor sounds like a real charmer: very dour and to the point, but Scott says he prefers that to the Disneyland approach.) Scott will be retested in May and of course his testing will be frequent and thorough from now on. Apparently the first three years are the most critical for metastases activity. This makes our Hawaii trip all the more special for us and most certainly for Scott and Kim. They are over the moon about it, and with this reprieve we can all breathe easier for a while.

When I think back now to Eleuthera and the magical Double Bay, even though only days have passed, it has a dreamlike quality. It is ever thus when I leave there. We thought last night of everyone around the piano at Tippy’s, with the swells of the ocean as backbeat. Driving on the 401 at the time, amid eight solid lanes of traffic with an icy rain descending, needless to say which scenario was the more appealing.

We are preparing our letters toward a possible home exchange for next year. I like the barter idea, much like thrift shops – bring one bag in, take one out. A lovely economy.

Off to manage this mountain of luggage and laundry – and, oh joy, oh bliss, my tax return, now there’s a page turner, but buoyed with Scott’s recent news – and we were all on tenterhooks – I’ll be singing through it all. (OK, calm down, Tricia, maybe not the tax return…)

I already have chosen our film selection for 2010’s movie nights in Double Bay: Glengarry Glen Ross (David Mamet’s absolute brilliance at work here– he is also a gifted short story writer – see if you can find or download “The Rake.”); The Winter Guest, (Emma Thompson) The Visitor, just saw this one and loved it. Full of spaces and silences, the camera lingering – deliciously – as in the Leone movie, Once Upon A Time in America.

I miss Eleuthera already.

t.