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And Words Are All I Have

In this world of disposables I write to remember it happened.
Snap chat off into the ether
Almost before it is entered.
Early writings already crumbling
Into parchment in the damp basement.
Tombstones I swore to visit,
Unkempt, obscured.
I write to make a record. This happened.
I happened.
Some of it may have actually mattered.

~~Tricia McCallum

Springsteen, The Heartstoppingly Extraordinary Elephant,and more.

heart traced on window

It's essentially a repair shop. If I repair myself maybe I can help repair you too.

Bruce Springsteen talking about what he wants his music to be.

I feel the same way about poetry. It's a repair shop and you can stop in for a tune up any time. No appointment needed.

Here is my best loved Springsteen song ... called One Step Up and Two Steps Back. Both its wistful melody and his lyrics, bleak, and so very rooted in the real world.


There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force
delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence
ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires and the sea.”

~~ Peter Matthiessen.

elephant reworked

Our elders say that an elephant does not find its own trunk heavy.
Zakes Mda

The Astonishing Elephant.

I read this week about how African elephants have evolved towards tusklessness in an area where they were intensively hunted for ivory. Survival, as ever, is changing the trajectory of evolution in that population.

That's right: no tusks.

In a newly published study of elephants’ traits and genetics in Mozambique. the selective poaching of elephants with tusks has led to a higher number of females being born without them.

When we think about natural selection, we think about it happening over hundreds, nay thousands, of years. Evolutionary biologists are stunned at the swiftness of this profound alteration within the species: this dramatic selection for tusklessness happened over a mere 15 years.

I have long taken inordinate interest in the elephant. A search of my poetry master list found no less than five poems on the subject. (One of these, Fraud, is printed below.)

First, a few more elephant particulars...
  • Scientific evidence suggests that elephants are some of the most intelligent, social and empathic animals on the planet.
  • Elephants can hear and communicate through the ground. They can relay messages great distances by foot stomping, thereby creating a low-frequency rumble that generates seismic waves in the ground that can travel 20 miles. The sensitive skin in an elephant’s trunk and feet then helps them to pick up the message, and interpret it as a warning, or distant danger.
  • Elephants can hear the sound of approaching clouds. Their hearing allows them to sense low-frequency rumbles, and communicate in infrasounds, i.e. sounds with pitches below the range of human hearing.
  • An elephants' graveyard is a mythical place, where legend says elephants retreat to die alone at a certain age or time. These so-called elephant graveyards are entirely natural, as it turns out, and often result from environmental factors like drought or poisoning.
  • Elephants are the only animals that have an in-built snorkel! By raising the tips of their trunks above the water’s surface, they can cross rivers totally submerged, walking on the river bed.
  • These creatures show altruism and empathy towards other species and are known to become friendly with humans, dogs and other animals. They've also been seen rescuing other animals from predators.
  • These emotional creatures mourn their dead, stay with them and grieve, and often try burying them.
  • They can also shed tears.


You think you’re writing poetry
and then while waiting for the dentist,
you read one in a New Yorker magazine,
about elephants,
tied together, heads positioned down,
being traipsed in a long line
through the Queen’s midtown tunnel after midnight,
on their way to a circus downtown,
blinders on to ward off car headlights,
forever away from their home
and the wild,
these creatures who hug using their trunks,
who have a membrane in their forehead
able to produce infrasound that connect their herds
across vast distances, even through vegetation,
these creatures who mourn their dead,
who will bend back the steel bars of their cages
in their fervor to reunite.

The dentist calls your name, you put down the magazine,
and you just want to stop writing
what you have,
for all these years,
been calling poetry.

This piece leaves me breathless. In the best possible way.

The elephants in the Okavango are keeling over like ships. No one can say why.
A die-off sounds worryingly like a bake-off but without the final prize...


This morning I misread Tantrism for Tourism and it’s been downhill
ever since. Elephants are dying in the Okavango Delta and no one
knows why. A man I love crumples into himself on a railway
platform away from home. My sister calls to tell me about
her aged cat, who keeps collapsing, then rising to roam
the house in wobbly confusion. It is all falling, falling.
A poet on the internet talks about a Jewish legend,
where we are given tears in compensation for
death. I would cry about the perfectness of it
except I’m incapable. My ophthalmologist
has made a diagnosis of dry eye so I
must buy my tears in a pharmacy.
I think of what this is doing to
all the rotten grief inside me—
unable to create salt bathing
pools to fire up my wounds,
this body powered by
breath, dragging its
legs through
the vast
that have
lost their will to
transform me. All
the unknowing we
must accept and fold
like silk pocket-hankies
pressed against our chests.
The theory of spanda in
Tantra advises you to live
within the heart. I’m a tourist
here, so bear with me, but imagine
a universe vibrated into being. All things
made and unmade by a host of small movements,
my favourite being matsyodari —throb of fish when
out of water. Just the word throb, you understand, hints
at longing, but also distress, and suddenly, language opens.
All the etymologies I used to think were useless in the arena
of bereavement are echoing over the great plains of beige carpet,
saying, We interrupt your weeping to tell you the world is real, rejoice!
The elephants in the Okavango are keeling over like ships. No one
can say why. A die-off sounds worryingly like a bake-off but
without the final prize. At night I squeeze drops into my
eyes, whispering the magic words, Replenish, ducts,
replenish. If you play elephants the voices of their
dead, they’ll go mad for days, searching for
their beloveds. To fall is never an action
in slow motion. The snap of elastic
in your pants, going going gone.
Belief caving in like a bridge.
My heart, your heart, the
elephants’—here’s a
crazy thought—
what if they’re
dying of

~~ Tishani Doshi

Tishani Doshi : “There’s something marvelous about the conciseness and smallness of poems. I love that they are small and yet very big, and that you can spend time with one poem and it can expand so much in you. There’s something about the distillation of the form that is allowed to say things in a way that we can’t do with other arts. There’s something mysterious about it. Nobody is able to define exactly what a poem is; nobody’s able to say what makes a poem good or not—these are still questions that are out for debate, and, in a way, I think they’re meaningless. If a poem touches you or moves you, it has the possibility of transformation, and I’m really interested in that. Of course, novels can do that, and dance is capable of those transformative moments, but a poem for me also reaches back to a tradition of orality, the spoken word, of putting something into existence just by speaking it, by naming it. There’s something ancient in that. There’s something powerful about incantation. I’m less interested in breaking down a poem than in the sense of a poem just washing over you and changing you somehow.”


Extraordinary juxtaposition below at the Glass Window Bridge in Eleuthera. The light blue waters of the shallow Caribbean Sea on one side of the island meet with the indigo blue of the Atlantic Ocean thousands of feet deep on the other, making for an incongruous, spellbinding sight.

glass window bridge
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There's a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

~~ Leonard Cohen
pencil drawing red heart
I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.
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tricia handwritten signature

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The Music of Leaving, my collection of poetry, is available to order.
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The Music of Leaving - Tricia McCallum

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