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It’s Only Natural

I am not immune to the wonders of the natural world.
I have seen peacock feathers under a microscope.
I know birds retrieve lint from the ears
Of a musk ox carcass to construct their downy nests.
I realize that the grand canyon of Mars
Is the same size as the United States.
I too know that when a blue whale dives deepest
Its massive heart slows down to two beats a minute.

But none, for me,
Can rank with a heated conversation one dressing room over at Marshall’s.
A debate in a movie lineup about the merits of Scorcese vs. Tarantino.
One Raymond Carver poem.
Give me the Lives column in a New York Times Magazine
About the writer’s troubled child.
Let me in on that moment when you knew it was over.
There for me lie the mysteries I care to unravel,
The fleeting moments between us drawing me back
Time and time again.

Hike your mountain. Portage the greatest rivers.
Give names to all the stars and constellations you have ever seen.
Then tell me about it when you get home.

** Photo by Joel Koop.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. Photo of vintage typewriter.

Becoming a Poet: A Complete How-To.

Absorb whatever is around you
Like a box of baking soda in the fridge.
Be prone to hangnails
and mysterious rashes.
Cancel plans at the last minute.
Be unapologetic when saying no.
Judge nothing as beneath you, beyond you,
or outside your realm of interest.
Know everyone has a story to tell.
Carry a large overdraft on your checking account.
Dwell, no, fixate, on detail.
Realize everything matters or nothing does.
Wear an inordinate amount of black.
Or white.
Don’t mix.
Write poems you want to read.
Jot ideas on restaurant napkins.
Lose them.
Carry an extra pen.
Become accustomed to letters beginning
We regret to inform you.
Ignore them.
Write some more.

 

 
A poem by Tricia McCallum April 2, 2020. .Incense sticks emitting smoke.

Makeshift

I’ll pick up lattes from that place on 49th you like.
Some Cheese Danish, your favorite.
And stop at the newsstand for the latest rags.
We won’t talk. Promise.
Talk is overrated. Especially now.
Try not to think at all.
Just be.
We’ll entrust time
to do what nothing else will.
What nothing else can.
To bring us back to life,
One moment,
one shallow breath
at a time.

A poem by Tricia McCallum 2020. A bride sitting on a chair alone at her wedding.

1/120th of A Second

Is sometimes all it takes to capture happiness.
If you’re lucky.
I’ve done it. Thousands of times.

It never felt like a Nikon
I was holding in my hands
but their lives.

The hours alone are punishing,
arriving at first light at the bride’s parent’s house
before the makeup even goes on.

Forty pounds of equipment in tow,
sunrise, nerves
already beginning to fray.

The bride for starters is never quite satisfied with
her dress or her hair
or her bridesmaids.

The groom often bears the look of someone
who has just been given
some very bad news.

Groomsmen are a particular challenge.
Lining them up,
they visibly stiffen.

Roll your shoulders, unclench your jaw.
Pretend you have actually met, I cajole.
To no avail.

And there’s always the visual artiste in the crowd
who tries wresting the camera away from you,
just for fun.

By the time I get to grab a bite
the buffet has been ravaged.
The wedding cake looks like a Dali painting.

Drunken husbands and wives
remembering their own ancient vows
push themselves in front of me at night’s end.

I still love her, you know, he slurs.
She rolls her eyes, shakily fixing her lipstick
before I freeze them in the blink of an eye.

I am always the last to leave
in the wee hours
just as the cleaners arrive.

I gather them together
for the last image of the day
They wonder why the fuss.

They talk about this woman heading off alone in the dark.
Exhausted
from chasing happiness all day long.

A poem by Tricia McCallum April 2, 2020. A rainy day in traffic.

Entreaties

My gums are bleeding again.
There’s a stack of papers that need attention
But I can’t find my glasses.
My truck is making that funny noise.

I sleep too late
Because no one wakes me.
I don’t write
I feel it’s all been said.

Your point’s been made:
I am selfish and fickle.
Say whatever you like.
Come home.

A poem by Tricia McCallum April 2, 2020. A woman standing with a horse at sunset.

Equine Therapy

They remember you:
Their heightened perception always at work,
An enigmatic sixth sense,
So rare in humans.
They open wide their huge liquid alien eyes,
Shift quietly in their stalls.
Their huge nostrils flare in welcome
At your approach.
For you carry with you
The scent,
Indelible in their memory,
Of someone once kind to them.

Astride their backs
We borrow their majesty.
We borrow freedom.

Funeral Sandwiches

 

It comes down to the ceremony now, the detail.

Pressing your shirt with the cutaway collar, not too much starch,

the way you liked it.

I sent the shoes that were a bit small,

but they were so fine-looking and you would approve.

At the last minute I remembered your favorite photo of all of us

for tucking into your suit jacket pocket.

 

Now to prepare the food for the mourners,

sandwiches to begin.

Made differently today,

the correct word is painstakingly.

The butter must be spread

to each and every corner of the bread,

sliced precisely

from freshly-baked loaves.

 

Heap both sides of the bread lavishly with spreads,

no scrimping.

No celery, you hated it.

Remove the crusts.

 

Assemble them ever so gently

before making the final cuts

into perfect quarters.

Clean the knife after each one.

Display them proudly

on my most treasured serving pieces.

And cloth napkins.

Only cloth.

 

All is ready.

Invite them in.

I’ll get this right

for all the times

I didn’t.

Dead Quiet

 

I thought you’d have my back.
You could have said something.
Anything.
But all I got was radio silence.
Deafening. Deal breaking.
It’s not that I needed you to defend me.
But it would have been lovely
To see you try.

 

Thirst

The sun was hotter.
You can tell.
Look at us squinting against it in photos then.
Everything washed out by the glare,
cheekbones, jawlines,
all detail surrendered.
Dazzled,
we could be anybody.

The gardens, look,
they’re parched.
It hurt to walk on the grass.
We lay in scorched backyards
slathering butter on our chests,
chain-smoking, eating fluorescent cheesies,
swilling bright red soda.

Everyone burned raw.
Everyone looked deliriously happy.
We knew
nothing could go wrong.
Our lives lay ahead of us.
Men were above us,
landing on the moon.

(goodreads.com contest winner).

Past Master

 

Among da Vinci’s countless notebooks, all written in code,

or backwards, to ward off thieves,

is found a jotting that translates to:

“Tell me if I ever did a thing.”

 

Hardest on himself,

his abandoned projects haunted him,

and those completed offer little solace:

scissors, the parachute, a clock with a minute hand,

the helicopter,

the first contact lens.

 

An upstart, he sketched Mona Lisa, no doubt, just to keep us guessing.

Her lips alone took him 10 years.

Voracious curiosity fuelled him,

climbing a mountain outside of Milan to understand

why the sky was blue.

dissecting human cadavers to perfect his anatomical drawings and,

it is rumored,

lions!

 

When he was commissioned to paint the Last Supper

he reluctantly put aside a joke book he was writing,

and throughout his life was convinced that if only we had wings

we could fly like birds.

 

Imagine this man’s to-do lists:

“Have Avichenna’s work on useful inventions translated.”

“Buy mustard.”

“Get a skull.”

 

 

 

Writer and Poet

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Tricia McCallum

Always be a poet. Even in prose.
Charles Baudelaire.

In essence I am a storyteller who writes poems. Put simply, I write the poems I want to read.[…]

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