And Words Are All I Have

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It was Lilac, The High Road,

A favorite song.

girl with lanterns

Second Thoughts

It was lilac and it seemed to me then
If there was a dream
It would look like this.

The color was lighter than lavender. Paler.
Two pieces, a matching dress and coat.
Swiss dot it was called. Gossamer,

Lighter even than air.
I would run my hand over its airy pebbled surfaces.
Holding it down
So it wouldn’t float away.

It came
almost miraculously
from the 25-cent bin in Jackson’s Department Store,
Crumpled into a nondescript wad held by elastics.

The color drew me.
When I loosened the ties the ensemble suddenly sprang to life.
A jack in the box,
As if adding water to a magical potion.

I remember being hesitant to wear it
for fear I would sully it.
But when I could wait no longer
I gathered up its gauzy folds gingerly one piece at a time
and let them float down over my head,
Its weightlessness now my armour,
This sheath of seeming nothingness a force field
Against anything bad.
Anything bad at all.

from The High Road by Edna O'Brien.

As with many a thing, we had embarked on it lightly, but it caught fire, escalated, went too far, to the marrow, rekindled hopes, sparked desires, hurting even as it satiated, creating fresh hungers and fresh fears.

Its end dribbled on, an end that consumed my years like a terrible wasting sickness, so that I often wished to be quite old, thinking by then it would have faded completely without a trace. Some moments, I wished that it had never happened because the incision was too much. Then again I wished for vengeance, retribution, which I gave vent to only in dreams.

At other moments, I would have given anything to have my youth back again, for a year, a month, a week, an instant. I would forget him a little each day and of course, in forgetting him, kill that part of myself that for all its pain is the most sacred.


I carry you with me into the world,
into the smell of rain
& the words that dance between people
& for me, it will always be this way,
walking in the light,
remembering being alive together

~Brian Andreas
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Listen to this wonderful song by country singer Miranda Lambert called The House That Built Me

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here, it's like I'm someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself
If I could walk around, I swear I'll leave
Won't take nothin' but a memory
From the house that built me.

plant at window
ellen bass

There’s a fire in you,
live like you feel it burning,
like you taste the smoke.

Haiku on Life by Tyler Knott Gregson

candle heart
tricia handwritten signature

Recent Post


We are left adrift it seems. Dr Laura is too busy plugging window blinds to be taken seriously. And these days Dr. Phil appears a mere dead eyed huckster for his wife’s line of miraculous subterranean botanicals. Archbishops are led away in handcuffs while princes in island mansions prey upon the under-aged. In search of wisdom we seek …

Michael O'Donnell didn't return home from the Vietnam War, but his poetry did. Alum Daniel Weiss was so taken by O'Donnell's work that he spent the last decade-plus learning about its author.

This is from an essay by Bret McCabe, himself a vet, published Spring of 2020.

Helicopter pilot Michael O'Donnell could hover near the ground for only a short time before returning to the sky. On the afternoon of March 24, 1970, O'Donnell had guided his Huey below the dense foliage of Cambodia's mountainous northeast region to retrieve an eight-man reconnaissance patrol that had been inserted to gain information on the size and movements of enemy forces but encountered gunfire early on. Three days into a planned five-day patrol, they needed to be evacuated.

O'Donnell, a 24-year-old from suburban Milwaukee, was part of the helicopter rescue mission involving two unarmed transports and four gunships that were dispatched from an airbase in Vietnam's central highlands. After lingering at 1,500 feet, waiting for the recon team to reach the extraction point, one transport had to return to base to refuel. The transport was on its way back when the recon team radioed that it couldn't hold out much longer. O'Donnell dropped his helicopter into a windy canyon and through a small opening in the canopy, lowered his craft to just above the ground. The recon patrol emerged from the jungle with enemy fire trailing after them. It took about four agonizingly long minutes for all eight men to board, a little longer than the average pop song.

After ascending about 200 feet, O'Donnell radioed to air command, "I've got all eight, I'm coming out," right before his helicopter burst into flames, likely struck by a ground-based rocket. The pilot, his three-man crew, and the recon patrol were officially declared missing in action in 1970. O'Donnell wouldn't be declared dead until February 7, 1978. His remains were discovered in 1995 but not officially identified until February 15, 2001. And on August 16, 2001, he was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, which was created as a final resting place for soldiers on land seized from a plantation owner after the Civil War. O'Donnell left behind his wife, his parents, a sister, his best friend and music partner, and a collection of 19 poems, some of which he included in his letters to friends, discovered in his footlocker after his death.

One of those 19 retrieved pieces, printed below, O'Donnell had mailed to his friend Marcus Sullivan in 1970. Sullivan served as a combat engineer in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, and they wrote each other throughout their training and tours. O'Donnell's daily missions transporting the dead and wounded back from the front lines were taking their toll.

If you are able,
save them a place
inside of you
and save one backward glance
when you are leaving
for the places they can
no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say
you loved them,
though you may
or may not have always.
Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own. And in that time
when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane,
take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes
you left behind.


Book Sales

The Music of Leaving, my collection of poetry, is available to order.
Order directly online — for both Canada and U.S. orders — from Amazon, Brunswick and Demeter.
The Music of Leaving - Tricia McCallum

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