top photo of newsletter

And Words Are All I Have

Sur(real) Clouds, Dear Diary, I Am a Poem

"Mathematician Lipman Bers said, 'Mathematics is very much like poetry … what makes a good poem - a great poem - is that there is a large amount of thought expressed in very few words.' I’m a mathematician myself, and while I can’t really explain what drives my need/desire to express myself via the written word, I guess it isn’t all that surprising that I turn to poetry to do so.”

Richard Jordan

Diary Poems

What led her to write poetry she didn’t
show to others? She entrusted verses
to diaries with gold-edged pages, hidden
in a cedar chest. Preserved in cursive
are rondeaux and cinquains. She relished snow,
seashells, roses. There’s a bookmarked sonnet
about a grandchild she would never know,
a future that took shape the way she wanted.

My grandma had no training, didn’t go
beyond eighth grade. Amid the Great Depression
she worked the mills, saved feed sacks to make clothes.
But here’s a line she wrote absent the lessons:
Dusk rolls a coral carpet down the stream.
I’ve seen that for myself. For real. In dreams.

Richard Jordan

That's not photoshoppe; that's an actual cloud hovering inside an actual room. Artist Berndnaut Smilde merges art and science to create small man-made clouds that exist — albeit for just a moment — indoors.

Smilde uses a fog machine to make the actual clouds, but also carefully regulates the humidity and temperature. Even so, these installations exists for a mere moment before dissipating inside the room. If you're not there in the moment, then you only get to experience these brief scientific sculptures as photographs.

I was thinking about the sheer power of a poem on a recent morning, over my third coffee, watching the ebb and flow of the ocean from my perch here in the main room.

Ruminating on what a poem can do, exactly what it can deliver to us. And this resulted.

I Am a Poem

I remember when you’ve long forgotten.
I return to you the details that still matter,
The ones that got lost along the way.

I tell your story.
My lines are your lines.
My words, entirely yours.

Exactly what it feels like to not be chosen.
The vicious betrayal that left you gasping for air,
That time you felt like giving up
And almost did.
Under a leaden sky one long ago winter morning
When he bid a cavalier goodbye.
Your saddest songs, your deepest regrets,
I hand them back to you, intact.
I resurrect them all.

I hold fast to the anguished moments you find
too painful to remember.
I speak the words you are afraid to say.
I lay them bare.

I am holding fast to them all.
I am ready when you are.
I am a poem.

~~ Tricia McCallum

Best tweets

Will you read this self-help book for me?

Kevin Bacon pays off DJs when he attends weddings so they won't play Kenny Loggins' "Footloose."
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
-- Steve Jobs -- born today in 1955.


In the parking lot of Churchill’s Garden Center, my mother
turned to me and said, I found the pills. I asked What pills?
though I knew. The birth control pills. Are you having sex?
Yes, I said, with pride. She whipped the words out,
fast as a striking snake,
You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re too young. Are you in a relationship?
Though I was, I said, No.
Her face cinched tight and she turned in profile, considering her options.
And I could see her jaw shifting, slowly. She turned to face me
and blurted, Who the hell are you having sex with?
Different people, I said, though there was only one.
She flushed red and sound issued from deep in her throat.
You … stop … now. Don’t you have any self-respect?!
Do you want to be a slut?!
Do you want people to call you a slut?!
I’m going to tell the pharmacist to stop giving you the pill.
Then I’ll get pregnant, Mom, and people will certainly talk about that,
I said with internal glee. Why are you doing this?
she demanded, with fury closely held behind her teeth. After a long silence,
I said, to play the field, Mom. To see what’s out there.
Her face stiffened, tighter. Her lids clamped closed as she turned the ignition.
Gripping the wheel tightly, she drove the AMC Pacer the twenty miles
to our home, as I began to describe the boys who came to my mind
and the fantastical circumstances of our sex.
I gave Red a blow job in the woods near School Street.
I had sex with Daniel in our biology classroom after school …
I struck out for myself, for a realm independent
of my mother’s strictures, her angry enforcement.
And Miles, I said, (my actual boyfriend, who I adored),
We’ve had sex a few times. And it was so good, I thought,
our bodies straining, reaching for more, and more.
I did not share this particular delight with my mother,
as it came close to an admission that there was only one boy.
Her face was heavy with sadness and rage.
Giddy, I leaned out the window of
the obsolete Pacer and yelled out the names of
my purported partners. I sang them out,
past the white Colonials on Walnut Street,
prudish with their tiny windows and doors,
past the dilapidated candy store on High Street
whose charms I had outgrown,
past the seamy, doldrum Seabrook dog track
where I was not old enough to place bets,
and oh, so far past the home of Ann Fieldsend,
the actual town tramp, who was currently pregnant.
Finally I sat, satisfied.
I remember my mother’s livid, punitive face, her roiling silence,
her crippling grip on the wheel.
And it dawned on me, I’ve won,
and I resolved never to tell her the truth.

~~ Elizabeth Hill

Recent Post

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

Poetry goes social...

facebook twitter instagram youtube 
Email Marketing Powered by MailPoet