And Words Are All I Have

top photo of newsletter

Catching Up.

porch swing

There is no price set on the lavish summer;
June shall be had even by the poorest comer.

~~ James Russell Lowell

woman alone

I’ve long written about relationships in my poems, and about love, all kinds of different love, even if it is bad love. Or especially because it is bad love--such a common heartbreaking thing. I doubt if writing ever helped ease the ache of a break up or a broken heart but it often proved a way through what can feel like inconsolable pain. (As an aside, I am fortunate as a poet not to have been born in a country I read about once where no sad songs were permitted out loud because making the king feel blue was outlawed.)

I share one of those poems below, called Catch Up, but first, let me candidly reveal to you the (admittedly) humbling back story…

Picture me, in my early 20’s, out for a drink with friends in a downtown bar. We were standing waiting for a table when it happened. I was scanning the room. It sounds trite now but I swear it is true – our eyes met. And yes, it was a crowded room. Never happened to me before or since.

He was tall, rangy, wonderfully funny, confident and oh, yes, gorgeous. (Think Anthony Perkins with a soupçon of Dermot Mulroney.)

As it turned out, I was about to launch upon the most confusing, bewildering, ecstatic liaison of my life. Paul was his name, and he swept me off my stilettos in very short order.

Ever had a Paul in your life? You never forget them. Mine managed to shave my IQ in half and decimate my powers of concentration. So this is what it feels like, I told myself as I swooned, pushing aside my inner voice, all my better instincts. and every single warning sign.

I spent our first few months together trying to convince myself I was good enough for him. Every time he stood me up or acted callously I managed to find ways to forgive him. I was a total dolt and I was crazy about him.

What I now refer to as my Paul Period is why I am never quick to judge anyone’s love life. I know what an utter fool I made of myself with him. When I think now of how I let my self-respect dwindle to a paltry pile of rubble, I shudder and cringe, both.

How did it end? Soul-crushingly, of course. He simply stopped calling. I ended up phoning him late one night in desperation only to hear a woman’s voice answer his phone. Who is this? she asked, sounding highly suspicious. Just by the way she spoke those three words I knew Paul had moved on. And then some.

It is such a tired cliché, I know, but the Paul Period stopped my heart. It did. And it took about a year for it to start beating again in regular rhythm. I wondered if I’d ever trust or love again. But heal I eventually did and went on to healthier relationships. Oh, I still made mistakes, but never the same grave ones I made while with him.

I thank the man - now - for the glorious moments that summer when I felt my feet never touched the ground. Everyone should know that feeling once; I hope you have. I hope you're spared the fallout though, when tears barely touch the grief you feel when he leaves you in his rearview.

In a crash course, and alas, I mean crash, Paul, without knowing it, taught me to never again think of a man as a cure, to never stifle my voice, what I need and expect. To never again toss aside my particular and personal magic for anyone.

Here, then, I give you Catch Up in memory of Paul, who I assume is still very much alive and - again, guessing here - embarking on his third marriage.

Catch Up

Everybody loves a train at a distance.
Explains you and me perfectly.
The champion of the dine and dash,
calling for the bill too soon.
methodically, diabolically, you kept me
off balance.
Plans were vague coming from you, up for sudden
inexplicable change.
There was always someone on hold,
someone in your lobby,
drumming their fingers.
Even when alone
we were never, quite,
Off kilter, off guard,
I grew expert in the art of rationalization,
the game of catch up.
It seemed you were always rounding
a corner in the distance
the moment I caught sight of you,
the belt of your flawlessly tailored trench coat
flapping behind you
as you ran.

Morgan Freeman on why he wears two earrings… “The truth is, these are worth just enough for someone to buy me a coffin if I die in a strange place. That’s why sailors used to wear them and that’s why I do.”

Best tweet of the week:

From @danielcrosby:
I used to drink tons of Diet Coke but it’s been one month since I’ve had a drop. I want to share some of the changes I’ve observed in myself over that time: - My health is unchanged - I’m less happy - My one source of joy is gone. Thanks for encouraging me on this journey!

Saw a girl I have a crush on with her new fiancé at Ikea. But you know what they say,
when God closes a Stǿrås Innjørdën he opens a FőnstǝrviviǵIkea.

~~ Matt Oswalt
cloud heart

After Graduate School

Needless to say I support the forsythia’s war
against the dull colored houses, the beagle
deciphering the infinitely complicated universe
at the bottom of a fence post. I should be gussying up
my resume, I should be dusting off my protestant work ethic,
not walking around the neighborhood loving the peonies
and the lilac bushes, not heading up Shamrock
and spotting Lucia coming down the train tracks. Lucia
who just sold her first story and whose rent is going up,
too, Lucia who says she’s moving to South America to save money,
Lucia, cute twenty-something I wish wasn’t walking down train tracks
alone. I tell her about my niece teaching in China, about the waiter
who built a tiny house in Hawaii, how he saved up, how
he had to call the house a garage to get a building permit.
Someone’s practicing the trumpet, someone’s frying bacon
and once again the wisteria across the street is trying to take over
the nation. Which could use a nice invasion, old growth trees
and sea turtles, every kind of bird marching
on Washington. If I had something in my refrigerator,
if my house didn’t look like the woman who lives there
forgot to water the plants, I’d invite Lucia home,
enjoy another hour of not thinking about not having a job,
about not having a mother to move back in with.
I could pick Lucia’s brain about our circadian rhythms,
about this space between sunrise and sunset,
ask if she’s ever managed to get inside it, the air,
the sky ethereal as all get out—so close
and no ladder in sight.

~~ Valencia Robin

The charm of poetry is that it rejects the edifying cathedral and, instead, indelibly photographs the small boy on the steps outside chewing a hunk of melon in the dust.

~~Eudora Welty.
kennel dog
I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.

Recent Post

Gabby Petito

For all of the girls and the women who trusted too much... those found and never found, the lost ones, the lonely ones, whose stories go untold, their heartache entombed alongside them. Last Text from Gabby Petito No service here, but at least I’m free from the cage bars of my body; remember what I’d blogged in observation of …
Gabby Petito

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