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And Words Are All I Have

Give It a Rest, Wagner Face, The Roads We've Known and The Dogs We've Loved, Science Steps Up.

To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.
Poet Galway Kinnell

Ever had ridiculously inconsiderate neighbors?

I know all too well the scourge that they can be.

For years I lived in a small apartment in downtown Toronto, kitty corner to such offenders. A husband and wife, they had a troublesome dynamic. He was a controlling tyrant; she seemed, troublingly, his professional victim. On Sunday mornings, ridiculously early, this jerk insisted on playing the German composer Richard Wagner operas at head-crushing decibel levels. Not only did I come to actively despise all things Wagnerian but this ritual sparked my lifelong suspicion of any and all early morning activity.

One particular Sunday at dawn said composer blared so loudly that it actually knocked a lovely picture off my wall and sent it crashing to the floor. Sounds cliched but it happened.

Isn't it fitting that these words are attributed to Wagner?

Sound currents of divine thought vibrate the ether everywhere and any who feel these vibrations is inspired.

Yah, Richard... Inspired. To homicide.

Loins girded, I headed next door, seething, and told the neighbor what had happened, that the picture was irreplaceable - it was... I brought it back from Nairn in Scotland - and that my fury was a culmination of months of putting up with his wretched behavior. He was utterly nonplussed and shrugged his shoulders, which sent me into further paroxysms.

I'd like to tell you he relented after that and chose to play only Gershwin thereafter and strictly from 2 pm on. Alas, it would be untrue.

Here is a poem I wrote about these neighbors many years later that I called Apartment 110. Writing it gave me a renewed perspective on my intense operatic period.

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 a nnounced “Never get married,”
before turning on her heel.
She told me at that same door that I needed
only five pieces in my wardrobe. Black and white. A mix. 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 lived in fear of 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 answered the door I saw,
the chaos Marilyn had been living with
all this time.


Brentwood, April 3rd

what is this, pulling me back the other way
to strip malls, highways, and treetops?
—Caroline Polachek, “Parachute”

for my twenty-fifth birthday I’d like to skydive off vasco road,
they take people up my dad did this once
before I was ever born; the hill opened up his right mom watched, pregnant with me, still unnamed, unsexed, surely the size of recognizable fruit, surely recognizable fruit, every possibility.
I’ll never do that again, he says, but I haven’t gone, I want to go skydiving;
I think I would jump; I want to know California that way, unnaturally;
I want to rattle like shucked corn inside myself;
I want to see what my dad must have seen—after this,he bought a house in the country; he bought my sister and I a childhood drawing on our wrists with sap from gerbera daisies, or that’s what I remember—I want to see all of it at once—the last two decades mount diablo a movie theater new lots new lawns two golf clubs on the other side of town—I went to high school there my dad bought me a childhood here my sister and I, but he never took us cherry picking. every springI fell in love with people who could never understand me,and they’re reappearing in my dreams. I'm still in love; we’re at any one of our old houses. I used to drive to get you. dark blue Chrysler with no a/c the worst of our summers. Those roads to your house I drive in my sleep. O'Hara, Fairview, Minnesota, Lone Tree.
I liked to watch you drive me. I still would.
Your jaw. What was that, alchemy? Only proximity?
To write sometimes I put on lipstick, jewelry, Vivaldi.
Today: slow-motion videos of parachutes deploying: birds of paradise
above us, color by color peeling. I want it—east bay rushing up toward me, unnaturally; those roads I took; tense walks along deer creek. I wanted to disappear here so many times. barely April and it’s hot enough to change how the air smells—more animal, more alive. would you have imagined me making it to twenty-five? Smaller in the sky than any recognizable fruit, poppy blooming overhead, able finally to see these strip malls, highways, our childhoods, endless, green, every line—parallel, intersecting.

~~ Jasmine Khaliq (from Rattle Winter 2022)

highway in fog

A scientist quit Stanford to chase a new way to treat depression. Last week he shared an early sign that his approach could work.

Dr. Amit Etkin, the founder and CEO of Alto Neuroscience, is laser focused on developing precision medicine for mental health. He left Stanford University in 2019 to pursue a new way to treat psychiatric disorders like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Tuesday, the company announced promising signs that its treatment known as ALTO-100 could help people with major depressive disorder. In the trial Alto separated patients into two groups: poor cognition and good cognition, based on a test it developed. The company theorized the group it would help most was the one with poor cognition - and that's what happened in the trial. Those patients saw their depression symptoms improve more than the other group that got the drug.
Onwards, Dr. Etkin and Co.


Best tweet from @Tbone7219:
If you're cremated after you die, you can be put into an hourglass and continue to participate in family game night.

I'll Tell You One Thing.

It’s not ever who you suspect.
We cannot go back.
There will never be a better time.
Brides wonder if they’re as happy as other brides.
The bully was bullied.

When you clean a spot on a shirt
You’ll leave a bigger one beside it.
You’ll always wonder about the one
Who never called back.

~~ Tricia McCallum

phone dusty

Behind every strong woman is a dog that follows her to the bathroom.


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The Weight Of It All

Life's not hard enough, so let’s invent a foe so fearless, So shameless, That it doesn’t toy with your dreams So much as mocks them. A tyrant that hands you back, ravaged, After it's done its worst. And even though we call on everything we know In defense, Science, all of it, yes, The tiny powdered capsules of hope, thrice …
The Weight Of It All

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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