Skip to content
Old medicine shelf

Something Called Qi

My friend made an appointment
with the city’s much acclaimed doctor of Eastern medicine,
way down on the Danforth above the Roots store.
He opened the session by counselling her vehemently
via his earnest translator
to keep the nape of her neck covered at all times
in order to guard against the marauders,
the incoming toxins.
She hadn’t even removed her coat.
This guy meant business.

First he asked her to stick out her tongue,
a diagnostic tool esteemed among Eastern prognosticators,
the sight of which prompted from him a harangue in Mandarin.
It seemed her tongue was seemingly the wrong color and texture,
not to mention tone,
this a sure-fire flag to her malaise,
something called her Qi entirely out of whack,
but you pronounce it chi.

The ancient art of cupping came next.
She followed orders, open to all of it ,
this woman who once scoffed at yoga, calling upon the ancients now,
flipping onto her back wordlessly, bare from the waist up.

The click and then the hiss of the Bic lighter
as the small discs of thick clear glass were heated,
then placed on her back in turn,
one replacing another in swift succession.

A lengthy script for a herbal concoction came next,
to be purchased in Chinatown,
Mondays and Wednesdays only.
And call first.

I used to think chemo was bad,
she joked to the doctor at their next session,
confessing she could not choke down
even one more drop of his prescribed brew,
its smell alone prompting memories of a dismal sheep farm
we had worked on together years ago in New Zealand.

The doctor’s final words were succinct:
No pepper, no spice, no hot, he admonished,
It takes time.
Time, he counselled, his hand upon hers,
clarifying for my friend what in the end
no one in the East nor the West
was able to give her.

February

January’s belligerent sister,
the more troublesome twin.
Its days are longer
But somehow colder.

It promises Monday delivery but doesn’t show.
Sullen, scheming in the corner of the playground,
It doesn’t play well with others.
It summons your worst.

It’s the oil pump that seizes just
As you’re merging on to the freeway.
Ragged cuticles and lizard skin.
Pulling tight turtlenecks over crackling scalps.

It leaves you asking why bother.
Its only job to send you back to bed.
The miser of light, master of mean.
The fortune cookie that gets you all wrong.

(Photo courtesy of James Wysotski)

selective focus photo of red rose flower

Smoke Signals

How can you not think of me
in winter
when afternoons dwindle on
in grayness
remembering our summers
spent wrapped together.

Not miss me late at night
in the absolute stillness
when nothing stands between you
and your memories of me.

Don’t you have moments
when the pain is too much
when you get tired of saying onwards
when you get tired of alone.

Don’t you yearn
to etch my name
onto frosted windows
carve it
into the bark of trees
trail it
in smoke across skies
shout it at will.

As if by doing so
I will magically come again
having been beckoned
with such longing.

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.

brown and black medicine tablets on black surface

The Weight of It All

Life’s not hard enough
So let’s invent a foe
So fearless
So shameless
That it doesn’t toy with your dreams
So much as mocks them.
Hands you back a wretched version of yourself
After it’s done its worst.
Has its way with you
Like a slave master of old.

And even though we call on everything we know
In defense,
Science, all of it, yes,
Bring it on,
The tiny powdered cylinders of hope, thrice daily,
The temples gelled, the paddles clamped securely,
Still we are brought to our knees.

We may summon the gods, too
If there be such things,
And if there are,
If there be any,
Now would be the perfect time
For them to show up.

Grey skies rolling in

I’m Not Sure

This November morning,
the bleak view out my window is the definitive study
in gloom.
Leaving me unsure whether to renounce the whole world
or fall in love with it forever.
Sleet wants to be snow. But snow would be the easy way out.
These leaden mornings grant us permission to bury our feelings
beneath heavy blankets.
But the toll is ultimately levied,
the brutality of these months,
at full bore,
biding time,
waiting to unleash all.

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.

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 May 11, 2020. A parched windswept landscape in sepia tone with a large bare tree in foreground.

Captive Audience

 

This is one in a series of pandemic poems I’ve written since my initial quarantine. Many of the pieces that have resulted are unlike anything I’ve written before but it’s entirely understandable, of course. These times are unlike any we’ve known before.

The title of the piece is “Captive Audience” and stems from a dream I had a few nights ago. My dream held the seeds of the ideas and images I express here but as ever it is an inexplicable combination of elements that conspire to inspire. I wish it was as simple as just recording a dream I’ve had, which has happened to many writers. Amazingly, Kubla Khan came that way to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Here is the text of the poem:

Captive Audience

The world is sharing a recurring dream.
Every night we fall asleep
and take up the very same challenge.

All of us are running for our lives
across a parched landscape,
shoulder to shoulder
in an endless line.

An elusive shape pursues us from behind.
We know not why.
All we hear as we race forward is the person next to us,
breathing,
and the thunder of our thousands of feet
pounding the ground beneath.

Some of us tire more easily, falter, rest,
start again.
We are united in a common purpose,
In knowing there is nothing for us
but the outrunning of this,
together.

Every time we glance backward
the specter looms closer,
changing shape with each turn of our heads.
One minute a tumbleweed six stories high,
made not of brush
but of thick snarled barbed wire.
Next, feral beasts snarling at our heels,
then, above our heads, out-sized birds of prey filling the skies,
circling ever closer.
Tomorrow night our predator will reappear,
transformed,
yet again.

In this same dream
all of us share a wish.
To awaken in our beds tomorrow morning,
having returned to the world
we once so blithely shared,
each of us knowing
it was,
all of it,
only a dream.

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

Reset

Michelangelo said the work of art awaited him beneath the slab of marble, the task for him being merely to uncover it.

In my own small way I understand that mentality as I write these days. The poem I know is “possible” waits patiently beyond the first tentative lines of a succession of drafts, across a murky divide, and with luck and patience perhaps I will reach it, reveal all that it might be. But it is fleet footed and elusive and a task master, each and every time.

Here is one I wrote recently that felt exactly like that.

***

I should have bought gold.
Written that idea down.
Paid more attention.
Slept less.
I wonder lately where everyone has gone.
Why the most important never
quite makes the list.
And why enormous changes are so often required
at the very last minute
with no chance to catch our breath.

I wonder lately where everyone has gone
and why I stood by.
I wonder
and this most of all
if even for a moment
I made someone happy.

Writer and Poet

BEARA-08-24-alternate_400x270
Tricia McCallum profile

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.[…]

Amazon Profile

Invalid OAuth access token.

New Book

Books on Goodreads

Tricia McCallum

Recent Comments

Thanks for sharing

Archives

Past Posts

Categories

All Topics