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And Words Are All I Have

dog love

Learning to Be Human, Shooting Stars,

The Spill of Years, Getting Personal.

American poet Tony Hoagland (1953 to 2018), wrote this sublime piece. He was lost far too soon and it felt that day like the world was the lesser for his going.


Who knew that the sweetest pleasure of my fifty-eighth year would turn out to be
my friendship with the dog?
That his trembling, bowlegged bliss at seeing me stand there with the leash
would give me a feeling I had sought throughout my life?
Now I understand those old ladies walking their Chihuahuas in the dusk,
plastic bag wrapped around one hand, content with a companionship that,
whatever else you think of it, is totally reliable.
And in the evening, at cocktail hour,
I think tenderly of them in all of those apartments on the fourteenth floor
holding out a little hotdog on a toothpick
to bestow a luxury on a friend who knows more about uncomplicated pleasure
than any famous lobbyist for the mortal condition.
These barricades and bulwarks against human loneliness,
they used to fill me with disdain,
but that was before I found out my metaphysical needs
could be so easily met
by the wet gaze of a brown-and-white retriever
with a slight infection of the outer ear
and a tail like a windshield wiper.
I did not guess that love would be returned to me
as simply as a stick returned when it was thrown
again and again and again—in fact, I still don’t exactly comprehend.
What could that possibly have to teach me
about being human?

Bob Dylan

Dylan, the rogue, the iconoclast, the irascible, All true. But my favorite of his seemingly endless dimensions is that of Dylan, the romantic.

The consummate, unapologetic, unbridled romantic, as witnessed here in one of his lesser known songs, Shooting Star. See what I mean here. Persevere through the gaming ad at the start. It's worth the wait.

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you
You were trying to break into another world
A world I never knew
I always kind of wondered
If you ever made it through
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you.

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it's too late to say the things to you
You needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away.

"I'd love to do a character with a wife, a nice little house, a couple of kids, a dog, maybe a bit of singing, and no guns and no killing, but nobody offers me those kind of parts.”

~~ Christopher Walken

Thinking the past little while about how 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 evolve - inexorably, inevitably - often one minute to the next. Life is a fickle, precarious, exquisite thing. Never has this seemed more true than during CoVid. That nothing is static. Or promised. Or forever.

Perhaps accepting this very thing is the beginning of wisdom and an unheralded secret to a resilient happiness.

Or as close as I - as any of us - can hope to come.

blessed are the weird
Down the spill of years, what carries us..

Dark and Late

This dark porch has brimmed with light
like a bowl with water
like a throat with laughter
afternoons of light years of
scintillating dawns
flagrant noons
underwater-green dusks
and nights dark and late lit by candles,
hands, eyes
with the leap
that's the life we've come for,
what we carry nonchalant white-knuckled
down the spill of years,
what carries us, what meets us in the end
and on the way
in each other.

~~ Catherine Abbey Hodges

Often, not only here on social media, but throughout my life, I have heard this: "Keep politics out of it, Tricia."

My response has always been the same. The political IS the personal. The personal, in turn, the political. My political views, passionately held as a feminist and formed as the child of blue collar parents, embody all that I see as fair and just in the world. And they shape how I see myself within that world.

I ask: What could possibly be more personal than that? So I will continue to present my views here and elsewhere, unfettered, unfiltered, whenever I feel the need to speak them. However readers choose to categorize them they all come from the same place first: My heart.

Onwards, yes?
I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief

C.S. Lewis

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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