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a poem by Tricia McCallum March 26, 2020 - candle votives flickering in rows.

Underneath

There are always good people.
Helping.
Mr. Rogers was right.
Just yesterday the man on the plane
who saw me struggling with the overhead bin,
jumped up, took over, smiling.
The mother of three across the aisle
handing out cleaning wipes,
her children willingly helping.
The flight attendant, struggling with her face mask,
joking with her colleague:
“If I hyperventilate behind this, you got me, right?”
The Customs official facing a sea of disgruntled travelers,
asking me if I had fever or sickness: I told him no.
“I’m happy you’re well,” he said, before sending me on.
Heads up, people.
We have widely different families and streets and seas,
but underneath it all
we share a beating human heart,
the same skies and sun,
the same bewitching moon.

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 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.

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.

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.”

 

 

 

The Trouble with Science

 

If it’s true

as grim neurologists now claim,

that our memory is far from intact,

that the very process by which we retrieve the past

is flawed, random, that it plays fast and loose with

fact, detail, even

colour. Then how exactly do I conjure

what was us.

 

If it’s all up for grabs,

all bets off,

what was true?

The way you looked at me that evening

on the boardwalk,

was it as tender as I picture it now?

And your kiss. As deeply felt?

Did you profess your love in three languages

or was it just two?

Before you round the corner do you actually

turn to look at me

one last time?

Are you in the blue shirt

or the red?

Are those actual tears?

 

But science falls short. It overlooks

the power of the human heart

which has a memory all its own,

where the moments of our lives never alter,

fade

or grow old.

Where a look remains as tender

as when first it was delivered,

a heart quickens just as it once did.

Yearning as fervent,

passion as acute,

and in that special place

the moments worth remembering

lie in wait for us, inviolate,

undefiled by time

or synapse.

Coming to Nothing

Coming to Nothing

 

The day-to-day momentum

carries us with it,

making it impossible to imagine

this all shall pass.

 

Too much to think this will end,

carrying us into oblivion alongside

all of our carefully honed plans,

our exquisite attention to detail.

 

Who can contemplate that one day

and not so very far away,

another, perhaps even a stranger,

will be charged to sift through our lives,

tossing into random piles

our old day timers, nail polishes

and favorite sunglasses,

expired library cards.

 

Who can comprehend that one day

Some distant cousin may glance

at a dog-eared photograph

of a laughing, red-haired woman,

and ask with fleeting interest

to no one in particular:

Wasn’t she a writer?”

 

 

There is a Poet I’m Reading

 
There is a poet I am reading
after coming upon his dog-eared collection
while cleaning a bookcase.
I had forgotten even owning it.
His name won’t mean anything to you, never famous or fashionable.
But it draws me after all these years,
this slim dusty volume so long abandoned.
And how quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice, resurrected now
line by line in the slate gray light of this autumn afternoon. 
 
His father’s nurse says she’s too tall for marriages.
The younger poets are ample in their margins.
The migrating salmon leap like sparks from some windy chimney.
The sound of his son’s bat on a baseball, sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s arc making the field small.
 
It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
his particular genius now back in my life.
I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
And I don’t have a baby. Now it’s too late.
I pull you close. We have missed nothing. This is our only life.
And just when I think he can give me no more
Comes his closing prayer:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.  

The Spark of Serendipity

 

Fleming left his dirty dishes in the sink and found penicillin.
Modern medicine was never the same.
The inventor of Coca Cola just wanted to cure headaches.
Velcro,
because a dog owner scrutinized
the tenacious burrs
embedded in his retriever’s coat.
The most profound discoveries
are pure accident.
Go looking for one thing and find another,
Maybe better.
On my way to a purebred prize winner
A mongrel butted in.
Best dog ever.
I thought the invitation said Thursday.
And found you.
Leave room for error.
Cast off loosely.
Await the entirely unexpected,
The astonishingly,
The utterly new.

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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