And Words Are All I Have

pro choice 6

Just Listen, Limitations on Grief,

The Too Late Nows.

Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker on June 24. 2022:

“Anyone who can get pregnant must now face the reality that half of the country is in the hands of legislators who believe that your personhood and autonomy are conditional—who believe that, if you are impregnated by another person, under any circumstance, you have a legal and moral duty to undergo pregnancy, delivery, and, in all likelihood, two decades or more of caregiving, no matter the permanent and potentially devastating consequences for your body, your heart, your mind, your family, your ability to put food on the table, your plans, your aspirations, your life.”

I was among the speakers on Monday in Toronto at the Queen's Park demonstration for pro choice and for equal access to abortion in Ontario. I thought I'd share here my comments to the people who gathered there along with me on a very hot, brilliantly sunny downtown afternoon.

Without the freedom to reproduce - if and when we choose -women are being reduced yet again to mere chattel. Simply vessels of future generations.

The legislation being passed south of us grows more ominous with each day, threatening women’s dominion over our deepest selves.

I am a poet and find my strongest voice through poetry. The poet William Stafford said “Poetry is an emergency of the spirit.” It is precisely that which prompted the piece I’m about to share with you.

The stories we share of our lives, our reproductive lives and our many others, and the struggles therein, may not be personal experiences. Perhaps it’s a story confided to you by a mother, a daughter, a friend, an aunt, the woman you carpool with, one you met at a book club. Maybe you talked to one another online, across a backyard fence, or on the seat next to you on the subway.

The stories of our fight for reproductive rights flow from women everywhere, many being told for the very first time. They speak of pain and survival, heartbreak and triumph. They express the painful clutter and confusion in our hearts. Women who have never spoken up until now are saying enough is enough. When we unearth our stories of oppression, share them out loud, we deflate them to a more manageable size, rendering them less powerful, even if only slightly.

Not only is there healing in the telling. There is power and peace in being an individual supported by the many.

Vilification cannot stop us. Scorn will not silence us.

We will tell our stories, shoulder to shoulder, as we do here once again today.

Then, in unbroken ranks, we will tell them again.`

Here, then, is my poem I call ...

Just Listen.

Women should build a barge,
A sturdy barge to float down a wide river.
Strong enough to withstand any current, wind,
No matter how they may rage.
Let them rage.
Those who launch it will be the first to place their stories there.
Others will be told of its coming,
We’ll line both riverbanks as far as the eye can see,
Await the vessel together, and holding hands wade out to it
As it reaches us, each adding our very own story.
This mountain of stories will grow, becoming monolithic,
So imposing no world could ignore them, dismiss them,
For one moment longer,
Not this many,
Not this many.

Here, the place where each woman’s story is finally heard,
Believed, unchallenged.
Where each is given the chance to unfold itself in full,
Uninterrupted, within the woman's own time.
Our vessel will accommodate all.
Every story heretofore untold, buried, unspoken,
Will link together there, knowing
As Sappho knew, what cannot be said will be wept.
And we will add yet more, one by one,
As the barge makes its way downriver,
Until every woman finds her voice there.

We will moor the barge together,
Setting kindling and massive logs atop,
And at sunset,
As one,
Set it alight,
This tower of struggle and triumph,
And the fire will be like no other.

It will fill the sky
And become part of the sunset.
There will be no telling our flames apart
From the fire in the sky as the day ends
And women band together to send their stories skyward
To all the galaxies that may be
Or ever were,
Singing with one voice,
I remember,
And yet I go on.

candle heart
I want never to stop being astonished by the people I meet and their individual stories. You know the ones I mean: the indomitability of their spirit shines from within them. I marvel time and again at what they manage to rise above when the odds are anything but stacked in their favor. It is within these special souls that I derive my greatest hope for this world.

~~ tm
indomintable souls photo

"There is no reason why a great poet should be a wise and good man, or even a tolerable human being, but there is every reason why his reader should be improved in his humanity as a result of reading him."
~~ Northrop Frye
I like not only to be loved, but also to be told that I am loved.
I am not sure that you are of the same mind. But the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech, and I shall take leave
to tell you that you are very dear.

~~George Eliot

Stuart in the sun
Dogs and Weather

I'd like a different dog
For every kind of weather —
A narrow greyhound for a fog,
A wolfhound strange and white,
With a tail like a silver feather
To run with in the night,
When snow is still, and winter stars are bright.

In the fall I'd like to see
In answer to my whistle,
A golden spaniel look at me.
But best of all for rain
A terrier, hairy as a thistle,
To trot with fine disdain
Beside me down the soaked, sweet-smelling lane.

~~ Winifred Welles

“There should be a statute of limitation on grief. A rulebook that says it is all right to wake up crying, but only for a month. That after 42 days you will no longer turn with your heart racing, certain you have heard her call out your name. That there will be no fine imposed if you feel the need to clean out her desk; take down her artwork from the refrigerator; turn over a school portrait as you pass - if only because it cuts you fresh again to see it. That it's okay to measure the time she has been gone, the way we once measured her birthdays."

~~ Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper
can you hear it 2

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.


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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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