And Words Are All I Have

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Dinner Plate Dahlias,

In the Background, Why Wait,

One or the other of us

has got to go.

antique lace curtain blowing

Somewhere between the sayable and the unsayable, poetry runs.
Antidote to the river of forgetting.

~~ Rebecca Lindenberg

This is somewhere in between a short story, personal essay, and poem. I can't decide.
I just know I wrote it in one fell swoop after I came home with my truckload of flowers.

Impossible Gardens

Somewhere between the canna lilies and the dipladenia
he started in on mask wearers.
A local, I could tell, the accent and the requisite polo shirt.
He had already launched into his rant when I pulled into the lot of the garden centre,
telling a small sullen crowd
about the Nano particles that will be released from inside our vaccines
once the government unleashes the 5G network.

His voice booming behind me, I surveyed the dahlias and
wondered what dinner plate really meant.
Smacked of overreach.
The marigolds were next, resplendent in their yellowness,
but always smelled to me like my Grade 12 chemistry lab.

His fan base had grown by the time I reached the blue flax,
exquisite in its delicacy.
I heard a woman in the crowd ask what he had against science.
𝒀𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒔𝒄𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒐𝒓 𝒎𝒊𝒏𝒆? he shot back, the irony all but lost on the crowd.

His vitriol flowed seamlessly, the rhetoric ramped sky high.
He was on to personal freedom, chiding us and our mindless lockstep.
𝑫𝒐 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒌𝒏𝒐𝒘 𝑩𝒊𝒍𝒍 𝑮𝒂𝒕𝒆𝒔 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒌 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒚 𝒎𝒐𝒗𝒆?
I wonder how many he would convince.
𝑯𝒆𝒚, 𝑹𝒆𝒅. 𝒀𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒎𝒂𝒔𝒌 𝒊𝒔 𝒖𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒆𝒔𝒔,
He yelled out behind me.
But this was not a hill I would die on.
Not today.

Driving home to get my hands dirty,
I turn up the country station,
Leave him in my rearview.
My blossoms fill the flatbed behind me.
They are waving a riot of colour
For as long as they possibly can.


If someone dismisses you by arguing background checks don't work, here's a quick powerful rebuttal using current stats: The average firearm homicide rate in American states without background checks is 58 percent higher than the average in states with background-check laws in place. As of today, only nine of the 50 states had laws requiring universal background checks.

Spread the word: There are 58 per cent more homicides in states without background checks.

They work: It's a start.

At this point in the country's history, who could possibly argue against them?

oak tree
I was commiserating with a friend about the huge, beautiful maple trees we lost in last week’s horrific windstorm. How we had planted them when we bought this land over 20 years ago and that each one had - oddly but in real ways - become like old friends.

She asked if I knew the story of the Chinese emperor and his gardener. I hadn’t. Here it is:

The Emperor said he wanted oak trees planted but was unsure whether to do so because they would take so many years to grow tall and strong.

The gardener replied: "Yes, they will, Emperor. So we best plant them today."
for poem Poetic Subjects

Poetic Subjects

The sky. And the sky above that. The exchange of ice between mouths.
Other people's poems.
My friend says we never write about anything we can get to the bottom of. For him, this
is a place arbored with locust trees. For me, it's a language for which I haven't quite found the language yet.
The dewy smell of a new-cut pear. Bacon chowder flecked with thyme. Roasted duck
skin ashine with plum jam. Scorpion peppers.
Clothes on a line. A smell of rain battering the rosemary bush. The Book Cliffs. Most
forms of banditry. Weathered barns. Dr. Peebles.
The Woman's Tonic, it says on the side, in old white paint.
The clink of someone putting away dishes in another room.
The mechanical bull at the cowboy bar in West Salt Lake.
The girls ride it wearing just bikinis and cowboy hats.
I lean over to my friend and say, I would worry about catching something.
And he leans back to say, That's really the thing you'd worry about?
We knock the bottom of our bottles together.
How they talk in old movies, like, Now listen here.
Just because you can swing a bat
doesn't mean you can play ball. Or, I'll be your hot cross if you'll be my bun.
Well, anyway, you know what I mean.
Somewhere between the sayable and the unsayable, poetry runs.
Antidote to the river of forgetting.
Like a rosary hung from a certain rearview mirror. Like the infinite rasp of gravel
under the wheel of a departing car.
Gerard Manley Hopkins's last words were I'm so happy, I'm so happy.
Oscar Wilde took one look at the crackling wallpaper in his Paris flat, then at his friends gathered around and said,
One or the other of us has got to go.
Wittgenstein said simply, Tell all my friends, I've had a wonderful life.

~~ Rebecca Lindenberg
heroes for children
I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.

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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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