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Pandemic Poems: A series.

Imaginings

What is this world of yours you speak of,
Where people touch, without reserve,
Or caution.
Stand shoulder to shoulder,
Dance cheek to cheek,
Join hands in circles at weddings,
Share spoons and pieces of cake,
Whisper secrets up close,
Hold elevator doors.
Share with me
This world you speak of.
You must tell me more.
Spare no detail.
None.
Help me to imagine.

Reading my poem “The Island Dog.”

 

The Island Dog

He is everyone’s;
Yet he is no one’s.
Vacationers arrive, discover him,
Dote on him for two weeks,
then disappear.

He is their holiday project
A story they’ll tell over dinner at home.
Some allow him in, to sleep at the foot of their beds,
to guard their front door,
Some even toy with the idea of a rescue,
Could we, should we? Shots? Papers?
Questions asked,
with the exuberance of the relaxed and the happy,
but as the time to leave draws near,
Reality encroaches, the idea stalls.

A new band takes their place,
The island dog waits,
Knowing it will take only one,
One, to give him a name that won’t change,
One, to call it out in the dark
should he wander too far.
One, to call to him
and him alone:
Come home.

The Things I Learned as a Bartender: My video.

Here is text of the poem –

The Things I Learned as a Bartender

There is no such thing as the perfect martini.
Jazz musicians make lousy tippers.
A couple can walk in fighting and after two shots of tequila
hold each other for dear life on the dance floor
like they did in high school.

A woman doesn’t notice her date’s drink order
as much as how he treats the waitress.
No matter how cool the pickup line
women want kind.
Even with nothing to gain
people can be small and mean.

A table of plastic surgeons
can be more obnoxious, abusive than
a convention of professional wrestlers.
The plain girl alone at the end of the bar
has an achingly beautiful story
no one will hear.
The busboy with the bad skin.
His will also go untold.

Some people cannot be reached.
The hulking cab driver
who climbed the back stairs for his double cheeseburger
every night at 8:30, month after month,
stayed mute, no eye contact. He’d pay with a twenty
and wave away the change.
Leave without a word.
From him I learned
it’s impossible to imagine
all the damage done.

 

 

Hear me reading my poem “Thirst. “

 

Thirst

The sun was hotter:
You can tell.
Look at the people squinting against it in photos then.
Everything washed out by glare:
Faces, thoughts, nuance,
all detail surrendered.
We could be anybody.

The backyards are parched,
Look at them.
It hurt to walk on the grass.
We lay in barren backyards
chain-smoking and eating fluorescent cheesies,
swilling scarlet soda.
We slathered butter on our chests.
Everyone was burned raw.
Everyone looked happy.

Nothing could go wrong.
Caution was ahead of us,
Men were above us,
landing on the moon.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. Entitled Once Trite, Now Wise. April 2020., A tightly wrapped peony bud with aphid atop it.

Once Trite, Now Wise

The everyday extraordinary
Abounds.
As it ever did.
Biding its time until we stop,
Until we notice.

The tiny unheralded jewels nested within our daily lives
That we rushed past, cavalier,
Oblivious.
With no time for the smaller movement,
The goal-less.

We were hell bent on destinations.
Headed to the best seller, the top ten.
There were judgments to render, texts to send.
None of which we remembered
Five minutes after.

Now,
Pause to discover
It is not only the peony in delicious full bloom
That deserves our attention.
Bend down and inspect the tightly wrapped, sleeping bud
Just as it is,
Soon to swarm with the manic aphids that will allow it to be
All it can be.

Watch the dog watching the squirrel.
How the clouds above change shape even as we look away.
The sad supermarket cashier who will remember your smile.
It’s not the goal, it’s the journey.
Once trite, now wise.
Did you know Margaret Atwood also wrote poetry?

a poem by Tricia McCallum. April 12, 2020. Old photos in a shoe box.

Easter Morning, Once

A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.
Helmet-like perms, and all of us
in soft white cotton gloves, with vertical ridges stitched in
above each knuckle, so they stood up,
like Mickey Mouse’s on Saturday mornings.
The matching hats were courtesy of Jackson’s Department Store’s bargain bin,
Fill a basket, five bucks out the door,
their out-sized pink and blue plastic daisies haphazardly attached,
head wear designed for the deranged.

Our conspiratorial looks as we were herded together
for the obligatory snapshot, sentries,
shivering,
on the stone steps after Mass,
the sunlight harsh on a still-frigid April morning,
our flimsy ethereal dresses of Swiss dot, atop stiff crinolines
lofting in the wind.

Embarrassed by my sturdy white knee socks,
I yearned for the silk stockings
worn by my older sisters, who flanked me.
The three of us stationed solemnly behind
our younger brother, happy to form his own line,
quietly proud of his clip on bow-tie and tartan vest
and perfectly pressed little wool trousers.

Chins up! Stand straight! came the reprimands,
but not one of us listened.
At least one child would turn her head away that day
just as the shutter clicked.
Another would squint unbecomingly against the glare.

And the third, the face of the third girl
would show to the camera a look of such sadness
as is unimaginable in one so young.

Now the photo retrieved, scrutinized,
one of dozens piled haphazardly
in this battered shoe-box,
the sorting job no one ever took on,
these celluloid witnesses to our lives.
Its edges scalloped like icing on a cake,
bearing hairline cracks, some of our heads and limbs
torn asunder,
the truest chronicle of those years,
forensic in its revelations,
bringing with it the simple message
that each of us might have done better
if we’d only known how.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. April 11, 2020. A bare light bulb.

Exactly When I Changed Everything

It was the night the water pump blew on my Datsun
To be exact.
Heading out in a sudden snowstorm late on a Sunday evening,
Leaving you standing at your apartment door in your bathrobe,
Me as independent as ever, you
As oblivious.
With a breezy “Drive Safe” your send-off.

In the elevator, seething
That you had allowed me to go.
Waiting, hoping
You would head me off
Like in the movies.

The gauges on my dashboard went haywire
Just as I was turning on to the freeway.
My temperamental car sputtered to a stop
On the snow clogged shoulder.
Flagging down a passing car, the wind biting,
Then the interminable wait for the tow truck.
Two guys in the front seat, smoking,
Black Crows blasting from the open windows.
Always the same two guys, it seems.

Hooking up the derelict car,
squeezing into the front alongside them,
Inching through the blizzard to the waterfront
To the only garage still open,
Where I rushed to the washroom in the back,
The predictable bare bulb over the nasty sink,
The walls lined with pornographic photos.

I slowly cleared away the grime from the mirror
Succumbing finally to tears
That would not be held back.
Despite my cloudy reflection
Staring back at me on that frigid night
In that repulsive back room,
I saw all too clearly
The wrong car,
The wrong guy,
The wrong life.

a poem by Tricia McCallum. April 10,. 2020. A long apartment hallway, dimly lit.

Apartment 110

You find the family you need.
Marilyn, a somewhat cured agoraphobic and hoarder,
in the one bedroom to my right,
appeared at my apartment door one night at 3 am
and announced “Never get married,”
before turning on her heel.
At that same door she told me I needed
only five pieces in my wardrobe. Black and white. Classics.
Don’t bother with the rest.
When I tried quitting smoking I enlisted her
to help wean me off, agreed she would ration me,
leave three cigarettes
in my milk chute every day.
First day they were burned to nubs by noon.
She suspected her European husband was a spy
and walked in careful circles around him,
a slippery tyrant who played Wagner every Sunday morning.
So loud it once knocked a picture off my wall, breaking it.
Furious, I headed over.
When he flung open the door I saw, instantly,
the chaos Marilyn had been living with
all this time.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. April 7, 2020. A bird perched on the pages of an open book.

You. New.

It’s become a time to discover things about yourself
you never knew.
This very day you realize
you are quite content sitting,
alone, silent,
watching the birds come and go
at the feeder outside your window,
unconcerned of how much time is passing.
You may even search for a long ago gift from a friend,
a book you scarcely glanced at,
just now come to your mind –
Birds of Canada: Species and Habits.
You open page one.
Ready now, finally,
to learn.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. April 3, 2020. A parched field under a dark cloud filled sky.

Dream State

The world is sharing a recurring dream.
Every night we fall asleep
and take up the same challenge.

All of us are stretched out
shoulder to shoulder in an endless line,
sprinting feverishly
across a barren landscape under heavy cloud.

An elusive shape pursues us from behind.
We know not why.
All we hear is the person next to us breathing
and the thunder of our feet pounding the ground
as we run.
Some of us tire more easily, rest, and start again.
No judgments are made.
We are united in this common purpose,
this breathless escape.

Every time we glance backward
the specter appears closer,
changing shape as it nears.
One minute a mammoth tumbleweed made not of brush
but of thick curled barbed wire,
next, feral snarling beasts snapping at our heels,
then, hideous vultures filling the sky overhead,
circling ever closer.

Our predator will look different tomorrow night
when we face it yet again.
We know there is nothing for us
but to outdistance it,
together.

In this same dream
the world shares a wish.
That we awaken in our beds tomorrow morning,
to the world we once blithely shared,
knowing this was all
only a dream.

Writer and Poet

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Tricia McCallum

Always be a poet. Even in prose.
Charles Baudelaire.

In essence I am a storyteller who writes poems. Put simply, I write the poems I want to read.[…]

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