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And Words Are All I Have

Life Lock, Just Driving Around,

Honoring Our Lives

The thing about being a writer is you never have to ask -
Am I doing something that’s worthwhile? Because even if you fail at it you know
that it’s worth doing.

Michelle Green.

Writing today, I am thinking about how we simply everything changes in all the worlds we inhabit and how I work to come to terms with that.

There can only be time stamps of who we are. And these impressions can change from one minute to the next. Nothing is static. Or promised. It’s a fickle universe. To wit: did you know certain ticks carry bacteria that can fog your brain? You take a jog on a nature trail thinking you’re crushing it and a few days later you can’t remember your birth date.

I laugh when I see alerts pop up on my laptop warning thusly: Get Life Lock. Your personal information could be exposed.

Little does it know that I reveal my most personal information, the good and decidedly less so, every time I write just about anything. So, here to tell you, Life Lock, move along. it ain’t happening.

That ship has sailed. With all her sails gloriously -- audaciously -- unfurled.

Your forehead deserves my lips to center you during moments when life spins like a bottle on a polished wood floor.

Housecleaning hack: Embrace your slovenly ways.

The sorrowful conundrum:

What we’re most scared of sharing
is what we most need to share.
We lock away all that hurt and pain,
that which that makes us human,
burying the unimaginable power within us.

~~ Tricia McCallum

"When I was in 10th grade, the visiting Catholic School Superintendent, a stern priest, recited Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven,
stepping the cadence across our classroom floor—and I was moved to tears. To think that language could soften so hard a man! I became a convert to poetry.

"That’s why I write."

~~ Judith Tate O’Brien:

Here’ is O’Brien at her finest.

Second Wife

I keep drawing the first
one from the cemetery
into the house
and pose her
perfect as a mannequin
at the kitchen table
where, chin resting
on a long-fingered hand,
she surveys
the bran muffins
and finds them crumbly.
I imagine her coming
to their bed
I arrive bone tired,
half a century
etched in my flesh.
She gave him
babies. I, a notebook
filled with poems.


After the blizzard, my husband drives
out to the cemetery to check on his mother.
He calls it Just Driving Around to See What’s What
and neither of us talk about the winding road
he takes that eventually turns west, past the old
peanut mill, to the quiet part of town made
even quieter, knee-deep in that singular hush of snow.

We pass the gates as casually as two people
come for a welfare check on the dead can be.
We don’t even get out of the car, don’t even
turn down the small beaten path that leads to her
headstone, nestled under the old juniper.

I look one way while he looks the other,
because it would break the illusion of our almost-
aimless drive; because he’s committed as I am
to our parts (Curious Townsperson 1 & 2);
because it’s a bone-deep kind of right to give him
this moment alone, let him feel the ache and
bewilderment of a heart still yo-yoed by love—
so the other end of the string is a powdered stone.
What does that matter? What has that ever mattered?

She was always, always cold, he tells me.
Middle of summer, August heatwave—
didn’t matter. Her room was a sauna.
He rolls his eyes, smiles, and the visit is over.
We drive past the gates, take turns watching
the juniper sink in the rearview mirror.
He takes my hand and pretends to see a bird.
I lace our fingers, pretend to see it too.
Kaitlin Reynolds.

“I feel this need to commit as much as I can to written memory—because moments are the most precious things I’ll ever possess, and because the mind is a poor steward. I want better for them than a few decades of aimless floating around in my skull, waiting to erode into oblivion. Even if I’m the only one who ever knows: they happened, and I felt them, and they mattered. And everything deserves somewhere to go.” ~~KR

Reese’s Pieces.

He didn’t deserve you anyway, they tell you to cheer you up
when you see your boyfriend hand in hand with another
just hours after he left your bed.
Or maybe your daughter flipped the finger to her controlling camp counsellor,
forcing you to borrow a car to go pick her up.
Have at it. Damn the damned U-boats.
May you flourish like a girl who feels seen for the first time.
May your robust joy overwhelm all your sorrows, pound them to dust.
May it fortify you in the blue black dusk.
But for those who face the dawn of each day with active dread,
like a headmistress’ imminent scolding,
those of you with random headaches that blur your vision in the mirror,
leave you gasping for air.
those with a frontal lobe resigned to nothingness,
may you be spared from friends who counsel,
what a thing it is to suffer and be strong, then ask, pensively, with a tilt of their heads, What might your sickness be asking of you?
May they just keep their mouths shut and give you Reese’s Pieces and peonies the size of dinner plates, and maybe an Edward Hopper drawing to prop at the foot of your bed so you can pull up a stool any time you like in his wistful midnight café.

~~ Tricia McCallum
(After Ellen Bass).

Sustaining creative work requires respecting yourself, honoring your life, and the humility and faith to keep going despite the ambiguity of creative work and the lack of guarantees regarding either artistic outcome or recognition. Honor yourself and your work as if the world depended on it. The world does depend on it.

~ Priscilla Long, from Minding the Muse.

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

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