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In a Maine Junk Shop

Others’ lives are on full display here.
Through the late afternoon
The light makes its way through motes of dust
Onto collection after collection.

The shrewd pickers look right past the string of musty pearls
That catch my eye,
Honing in instead on a pair of tiny opal earrings
With an eye to resale.
They know how this is done.

A table off on its own offers cloth-bound books
Arranged by colour.
Who would devise such bizarre cataloguing?
Pride and Prejudice propped up against
Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy,
With their similar covers of cherry red.

An exhibit of photographs comes next.
The people shown with seemingly little to smile about.
Matching sepia toned oval photos show three young girls, sisters it would appear,
The outer plastic sheath now splintered and yellowed.
Obscuring, endangering, what it was once
Meant to preserve.

The savvy pickers haggle now with the bored shopkeeper
But none seem the least concerned
About the back story. Who might the earrings have been worn by, I wonder.
What young girl’s hands carefully inserted the tiny buds?
Before what special evening.
What hopes lay in her heart as she descended the stairs for the dance.
Did she later tuck them away for a daughter
Who was never meant to be?

We want it all to mean something.
So we hold on to the unremarkable snapshots of those long dead,
A child’s single mitten,
An ancient love letter in painstaking calligraphic script.
A matted braid of strawberry blond hair
From whose head we shall never know.

Cleaning David Bowie’s Apartment, London’s West End, 1973

It was like any other apartment on my roster.
Untidy, untended.
They all look the same.
Tea stains mottled the kitchen sink,
and the predictable, sad bathtub ring.
The piano where Major Tom was probably composed
sat in a corner, unremarkable, save for its one chipped key.

The bedroom, too, tedious,
a tacky Gothic headboard,
pilled flannel sheets and overcrowded bedside table,
bath towels, mismatched, haphazardly strewn.
Kids’ toys littered the floors and surfaces,
not one of them I hadn’t seen already,
back home in the monotonous Canadian suburbs.

I don’t know what I expected.
Just not ordinary.
I cleaned ordinary all day long.
Perhaps a zig zag lightning bolt slashed in neon across the shower wall,
the tiny golden head of a Grammy statue poking out from the back of a bookshelf.
Violet satin pyjamas precisely folded atop a matching pillowcase
with Bowie emblazoned on both in sequins.

Truth be told, Ziggy,
I still hoped for a glimpse of something
after wringing out my mop for the last time,
perhaps rising suddenly in the air all around me,
amid the motes of dust,
the sudden twinkling shimmer
of stardust.

man carries girl

Shared

Street smarts.
Left-handedness.
A tendency to sadness.
Fetal position sleep.
The way you dealt cards, precisely.
Turned the wheel of your car, hand over hand.
Things as microscopic as
The way you washed your face, methodically,
Patting it dry, never rubbing.
Staring intently at yourself in the mirror for a brief moment
Before folding the towel perfectly in half and returning it to the rack.
I stare too, fold the towel, thoughtfully.
I hear myself coughing when I rise.
I could be you.

Waiting Room

Lying there
amidst a scattering of pillows
flanked by your medications,
oblivious,
you seem more real to me than ever,
probably because a bed
was never able to contain you.
Before our feet were on the floor
we heard you mornings,
bustling in the kitchen,
radio on, the tea hot.

Small,
I remember stumbling to the washroom
in the wee hours, you as ever
in your chair across the living room,
smoke curling from your ashtray;
you’d look up from your book
and smile at me,
ten-thousand watts.

Through the years it seemed that
sleep was for other people.
It is your turn now –
nothing left to be done, nothing can be done.
Close your eyes, mother.
Someone else will turn out the lights.

list of names partially blurred. One name must be important among the many.

It Comes Down to This

The myriad charts and graphs of CoVid cases and deaths are numbing. But they all come down to this: one person. One person lost forever to the ones who loved him.

One Name.

It is dizzying,
Numbing in truth,
Front page of Sunday’s New York Times,
One thousand names, printed in rows.
They blur together.
We shut down when faced with such staggering loss.

Among them, this one,
New father Israel Sauz, 22. Broken Arrow Oklahoma,
Who will never know the face of his son.
Israel Sauz, 22,
whose boy will take his first step without him.
And his first turn at bat.
Who will ask about the father he never knew,
To learn they shared a love for poetry,
And a mean curve ball.
That his father batted with his left hand just like him.
His father, Israel Sauz,
Whose poems went unwritten,
Israel Sauz,
Who never held his son.

Final Destination - Poem by Tricia McCallum

I read my poem – If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home.

Click to listen… https://youtu.be/C53vVIfxwdk

If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home.

Always the smell of tiger balm
takes me back to Kuala Lumpur in 1980,
the sweltering airstrips,
the sea of expectant upturned faces
of the refugees waiting en masse
at the bottom of the plane’s stairs,
on their way to Canada
and to second lives.

Plane load after plane load,
week after week, four years running,
we ferried them across oceans.
After days and sometimes weeks in crowded buses
they waited to be next in line,
these survivors of Pol Pot and his merciless Khmer Rouge,
these survivors of unimaginable horror.
We delivered them to Montreal and to Toronto,
away from all they had known,
everything they owned in small tidy bundles at their feet.

We chose our words carefully for the interpreter,
Trying to prepare them in some small way
for what lay ahead.
Where do you begin?
How do you tell someone how cold feels?

We played them music we wanted them to hear,
hits of the day, Blondie, REO Speedwagon,
handed out sandwiches and Pampers and wet naps.
They in turn watched our every move,
accepted anything given to them, suspiciously at first,
then with vigorously nodding heads, pouring forth their thanks,
holding up their solemn, silent babies proudly for us to hold.

When the cabin lights dimmed,
hearing their guarded whispers to one another
sharing late night confessions in the dark,above the ocean,
these people for whom nothing on earth
could be surprising.

Even when I urged them up the aircraft stairs,
beckoned them toward me,
they held back, tentative,
and only when I descended the stairs
took the first of them by the hand,
would they dare take the first step
toward this unimaginable freedom.

I see their faces clearly now and I ask:
Who among us could possibly measure
the courage we asked of them.

A poem by Tricia McCallum entitled Hard Won. Photo of a woman from behind climbing subway stairs.

Hard Won

There is no glory in suffering.
Father Blackwell got it all wrong.

Ask the young martyrs
How much good ever came from their deprivation,
Their unspeakable deaths.
The suicide bomber looking up at a cloudless blue sky on his final walk.
What is his family’s honor to him then.
My father, grasping at air for his tissue paper lungs,
Graciously succumbing,
What greater good was ever served.

The faithful dog who licks his master’s hand
Only to be beaten again.
The teenage mother who surrendered her baby girl from her hospital bed,
When she passes a young woman in a stairwell years later,
And stares into a face hauntingly like her own,

Ask her
As her heart breaks yet again,
Who did as she was told,
Where is the glory now?

a poem by Tricia McCallum. April 12, 2020. Old photos in a shoe box.

Easter Morning, Once

A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.
Helmet-like perms, and all of us
in soft white cotton gloves, with vertical ridges stitched in
above each knuckle, so they stood up,
like Mickey Mouse’s on Saturday mornings.
The matching hats were courtesy of Jackson’s Department Store’s bargain bin,
Fill a basket, five bucks out the door,
their out-sized pink and blue plastic daisies haphazardly attached,
head wear designed for the deranged.

Our conspiratorial looks as we were herded together
for the obligatory snapshot, sentries,
shivering,
on the stone steps after Mass,
the sunlight harsh on a still-frigid April morning,
our flimsy ethereal dresses of Swiss dot, atop stiff crinolines
lofting in the wind.

Embarrassed by my sturdy white knee socks,
I yearned for the silk stockings
worn by my older sisters, who flanked me.
The three of us stationed solemnly behind
our younger brother, happy to form his own line,
quietly proud of his clip on bow-tie and tartan vest
and perfectly pressed little wool trousers.

Chins up! Stand straight! came the reprimands,
but not one of us listened.
At least one child would turn her head away that day
just as the shutter clicked.
Another would squint unbecomingly against the glare.

And the third, the face of the third girl
would show to the camera a look of such sadness
as is unimaginable in one so young.

Now the photo retrieved, scrutinized,
one of dozens piled haphazardly
in this battered shoe-box,
the sorting job no one ever took on,
these celluloid witnesses to our lives.
Its edges scalloped like icing on a cake,
bearing hairline cracks, some of our heads and limbs
torn asunder,
the truest chronicle of those years,
forensic in its revelations,
bringing with it the simple message
that each of us might have done better
if we’d only known how.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. May 8, 2020. P{rofile photo of a young ginger haired girl.

Phantom Pain

 
My womb lies intact, unused.
But on afternoons that stretch too long in gloom
I allow myself to imagine her.
Perhaps hair the color of cinnamon and a tendency to
sink into a slough of despond.
A writer, too, I wonder.
Or just as easily a short order cook, a firefighter,
a glassblower.
Her hair would probably have parted to the left,
her second toe longer than the first.
She’d need spectacles from day one,
have a weakness for blackberry jam, the minor chords,
night over day.
Odds on she’d be left handed 
and prone to itchy rashes that would randomly occur
and vanish the same way.
Her name would be Catherine like her grandmother’s.
She would be no one’s fool
and no one’s daughter. 

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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