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And Words Are All I Have

The Real World, Oscar Time, Wakeup Calls.

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea
drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise,
and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.

~~ Rainer Maria Rilke

What Can A.I. Art Teach Us About the Real Thing?

The range and ease of pictorial invention offered by
A.I. image generation are startling.

From Adam Gopnick in last week's New Yorker.

“An Avedon portrait of a Havanese,” I type into my laptop. An actual, if elderly and ailing, Havanese is looking up at me as I work, and an Avedon portrait book is open on my desk. What could be more beguiling than combining the two? Then my laptop stutters and pauses, and there it is, eerily similar to what Richard Avedon would have done if confronted with a Havanese.

Surely this helps explain why A.I. pictures tend, for now, to be more compelling than A.I. prose. When you ask for a song about Paris in the manner of Cole Porter, you’ll invariably get a skillful string of clichés: “Oh Paris, city of love and delight, Where the Seine flows, so elegant and bright.”

It’s astonishing that such a thing gets conjured up at all, but it isn’t remotely Porter.

The Garden by Moonlight

A black cat among roses,
Phlox, lilac-misted under a first-quarter moon,
The sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock.
The garden is very still,
It is dazed with moonlight,
Contented with perfume,
Dreaming the opium dreams of its folded poppies.
Firefly lights open and vanish
High as the tip buds of the golden glow
Low as the sweet alyssum flowers at my feet.
Moon-shimmer on leaves and trellises,
Moon-spikes shafting through the snow ball bush.
Only the little faces of the ladies’ delight are alert and staring,
Only the cat, padding between the roses,
Shakes a branch and breaks the chequered pattern
As water is broken by the falling of a leaf.
Then you come,
And you are quiet like the garden,
And white like the alyssum flowers,
And beautiful as the silent sparks of the fireflies.
Ah, Beloved, do you see those orange lilies?
They knew my mother,
But who belonging to me will they know
When I am gone.

~~ Amy Lowell
Here come the Oscars. The overly long, often vapid, consummately indulgent, yet, incongruously splendid delectation that I await giddily every March.

Here's a printable Oscar Ballot.
How about forwarding the link to some friends? Run your own Oscar Pool! Grand prize can be Cineplex tickets. It's such fun and adds another level of suspense entirely to the event . The competition within my family and friends proves prodigious without fail. Most of us are film fanatics.) Invariably, when I submit my ballot to the yearly contest I am quite certain my picks of award winners are solid shoe-ins, even down down to the most obscure categories. And then the actual results start rolling in...

More on my Oscar addiction. Here's a link to an essay that appeared in Huffington Post about my passion for film and those little gold statues.

Meanwhile, the night of, I recommend black licorice, Poppycock, the best pizza you can get your hands on, and sweets of your choosing. And comfortable pants. I advise going two sizes too big; it could be a long show.

Best tweets:

Hope raised in hardship is the most shining light

Never mind flying cars. The greatest economic productivity/personal happiness gain waiting to be grasped by 21st century science is progress in mental health.

Don't you have any fun without me.

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
This poem of mine is a difficult one. Painful to write and perhaps moreso to share.

But what is it a poet promises her reader if not her most hard-won truths? (After Keats)

His Gift

We were leaving the bar and he erupted,
I had been paying attention to everyone but him,
he yelled.
Who was that guy you kept flirting with?
I hurried ahead, mystified,
realizing how little I knew about this guy.
He rushed up alongside me and with a closed fist punched me so hard on my upper arm
that it propelled me sideways,
sent me down to the hard cold ground with a jolt.
He leaned over me, preparing to strike me again.
Oh, you’re not worth it, he spat out as he walked away.
And left me there that frigid February night
so long ago.
Left me with what I came to see as a bizarre gift,
by letting me feel at his hand for those few moments, utter powerlessness,
the terror of helplessness,
and seeding in my deepest core the determination
to never feel those things ever again.

~~ Tricia McCallum
At a certain point I need to go wandering. My feet need to hit earth, again and again,
that bone-filling drumbeat. I need the sky's colored threads to tangle inside me,
pull me somewhere new.

Megan Harlan, Mobile Home: A Memoir in Essays

𝖠𝗍 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝖭𝗎𝗋𝗌𝗂𝗇𝗀 𝖧𝗈𝗆𝖾, 𝖺𝗇 𝗈𝗅𝖽 𝗆𝖺𝗇 𝗏𝖺𝖼𝖺𝗇𝗍 𝖻𝗒 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗐𝗂𝗇𝖽𝗈𝗐 -

𝖧𝗈𝗅𝖽 𝗆𝖾 𝗈𝖼𝖼𝖺𝗌𝗂𝗈𝗇𝖺𝗅𝗅𝗒 𝖿𝗈𝗋 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗅𝗂𝗀𝗁𝗍 𝗂𝗌 𝖿𝖺𝖽𝗂𝗇𝗀 𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝖨 𝖼𝖺𝗇 𝗇𝗈 𝗅𝗈𝗇𝗀𝖾𝗋 𝗌𝖾𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗁𝗂𝗅𝗅𝗌 𝗍𝗁𝖺𝗍 𝗈𝗇𝖼𝖾 𝗋𝗈𝗌𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝖾𝗋𝖾, 𝖻𝗋𝗈𝗐𝗇 𝗁𝗂𝗅𝗅𝗌, 𝗌𝖺𝗇𝖽, 𝗌𝖺𝗇𝖽. 𝖨 𝗌𝖾𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝖼𝗈𝗅𝗈𝗋, 𝗅𝗂𝗄𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝖻𝗋𝗈𝗐𝗇 𝗌𝗁𝗈𝗎𝗅𝖽𝖾𝗋𝗌 𝗈𝖿 𝖺 𝗀𝗂𝗋𝗅 𝖨 𝗄𝗇𝖾𝗐 𝖻𝗒 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗅𝖺𝗄𝖾, 𝗈𝗎𝗍𝗌𝗂𝖽𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗐𝗂𝗇𝖽𝗈𝗐. 𝖣𝗂𝖽 𝖨 𝗆𝖺𝗋𝗋𝗒 𝗁𝖾𝗋? 𝖶𝖾𝗋𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝖾𝗋𝖾 𝖼𝗁𝗂𝗅𝖽𝗋𝖾𝗇?
𝖨𝗌 𝗍𝗁𝖺𝗍 𝗌𝗇𝗈𝗐? 𝖨𝗌 𝗂𝗍 𝗐𝗂𝗇𝗍𝖾𝗋 𝖺𝗅𝗋𝖾𝖺𝖽𝗒 𝖺𝗀𝖺𝗂𝗇?

𝖨 𝗋𝖾𝗆𝖾𝗆𝖻𝖾𝗋 𝗁𝖾𝗋 𝗌𝗁𝗈𝗎𝗅𝖽𝖾𝗋𝗌, 𝗇𝗈𝗍 𝗁𝖾𝗋 𝖿𝖺𝖼𝖾 𝗈𝗋 𝗇𝖺𝗆𝖾.
𝖨 𝗋𝖾𝗆𝖾𝗆𝖻𝖾𝗋 𝗒𝗈𝗎𝗋 𝖿𝖺𝖼𝖾 𝗌𝗈𝗆𝖾𝗍𝗂𝗆𝖾𝗌 (𝖺𝗋𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝖾𝗒 𝗒𝗈𝗎𝗋 𝗌𝗁𝗈𝗎𝗅𝖽𝖾𝗋𝗌?) 𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝗒𝗈𝗎𝗋 𝗍𝗈𝗎𝖼𝗁. 𝖧𝗈𝗅𝖽 𝗆𝖾 𝗈𝖼𝖼𝖺𝗌𝗂𝗈𝗇𝖺𝗅𝗅𝗒. 𝖳𝗁𝖾 𝗁𝗂𝗅𝗅𝗌 𝖺𝗋𝖾 𝗀𝗈𝗇𝖾, 𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝗆𝗈𝗇𝗈𝗍𝗈𝗇𝗒. 𝖨 𝗄𝗇𝗈𝗐 𝗍𝗁𝖺𝗍 𝗐𝗈𝗋𝖽, 𝖻𝗎𝗍 𝖨 𝖼𝗈𝗎𝗅𝖽 𝗇𝗈𝗍 𝗌𝖺𝗒 𝗂𝗍 𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝗇𝗈 𝗅𝗈𝗇𝗀𝖾𝗋 𝖾𝗏𝖾𝗇 𝗍𝗋𝗒.
𝖠 𝗌𝗍𝗋𝖺𝗇𝗀𝖾 𝗐𝗈𝗋𝗅𝖽, 𝗆𝗈𝗇𝗈𝗉𝗈𝗅𝗒. 𝖨𝗍 𝗍𝖺𝗌𝗍𝖾𝗌 𝗅𝗂𝗄𝖾 𝖻𝗅𝖾𝖺𝖼𝗁.
𝖬𝗒 𝗅𝗂𝖿𝖾 𝗂𝗌 𝗍𝗁𝖾𝗋𝖾 𝗂𝗇 𝖺 𝗍𝗁𝗂𝗆𝖻𝗅𝖾 𝗈𝗇 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗇𝗂𝗀𝗁𝗍 𝗌𝗍𝖺𝗇𝖽
𝗈𝗇𝗅𝗒 𝖨 𝖼𝖺𝗇 𝗌𝖾𝖾.
𝖨 𝗌𝗍𝖺𝗋𝖾 𝖺𝗍 𝗂𝗍 𝖿𝗈𝗋 𝗁𝗈𝗎𝗋𝗌.

𝖧𝗈𝗅𝖽 𝗆𝖾 𝗈𝖼𝖼𝖺𝗌𝗂𝗈𝗇𝖺𝗅𝗅𝗒. 𝖳𝗁𝖾𝗋𝖾 𝗂𝗌 𝗇𝗈 𝗁𝗎𝗋𝗋𝗒. 𝖳𝗁𝖾 𝗅𝗂𝗀𝗁𝗍 𝖿𝖺𝖽𝖾𝗌 𝗌𝗅𝗈𝗐𝗅𝗒. 𝖨𝗍 𝗌𝖾𝖾𝗆𝗌 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗅𝖺𝗌𝗍 𝗉𝖺𝗋𝗍 𝗈𝖿 𝗌𝗈𝗆𝖾 𝗈𝗍𝗁𝖾𝗋 𝖽𝖺𝗒, 𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝗂𝗆𝖻𝗅𝖾 𝗁𝗈𝗅𝖽𝗌 𝗌𝗈 𝗅𝗂𝗍𝗍𝗅𝖾. 𝖳𝗁𝖾 𝗁𝗂𝗅𝗅𝗌 𝖺𝗋𝖾 𝗀𝗈𝗇𝖾 𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝗌𝗈𝗈𝗇 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗍𝗁𝗂𝗆𝖻𝗅𝖾 𝗐𝗂𝗅𝗅 𝗍𝗂𝗉 𝗌𝗅𝗈𝗐𝗅𝗒 𝗈𝗏𝖾𝗋.

𝖨𝗍 𝗐𝗂𝗅𝗅 𝗆𝖺𝗄𝖾 𝗇𝗈 𝗌𝗈𝗎𝗇𝖽, 𝗇𝗈𝗍𝗁𝗂𝗇𝗀 𝗐𝗂𝗅𝗅 𝗌𝗉𝗂𝗅𝗅.

𝖫𝖾𝗅𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝖩𝖺𝗆𝖾𝗌

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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