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

Evermore

There are absolutes.
Not just in physics, dogma.
Untrue is stronger than not true.
It seems the cat didn’t come back.
All boats do not rise.
Dreams trump wishes.
The light of a late November day prompts a very particular longing.
I always wish I had said something wiser.
I will never stop missing the mere sound of your voice.

Sadness For Beginners

Start small.
Close the drapes.
Mute your phone.

Revisit botched endings in turn
like a row of dominoes.
Research poetry awards you’ve never even heard of
that you will not win.

Walk very far in cold rain.
Visit random cemeteries. Linger.
Listen to each of the stories within.

The times you turned away, didn’t show,
said the unkind thing.
There are limitless ways, really.
Try it with me.

Recall the times you promised something
you knew
you could never deliver.

Dig out old love letters, the ones received,
even better,
the ones you never sent.

It’s a muscle you can develop,
and in time learn that
sadness teaches you a thousand times more
than happiness ever will.

Sickly Sweet

It is an exacting quid pro quo.
The deeper I bury what I need to say
the loftier my cakes become.
The frosting atop growing thicker, sweeter,
the longer I wait to excavate
my deepest self.

When my freezer is filled with home baked goodies
my words in turn remain unwritten,
buried beneath heart shaped Teflon pans,
obliterated by scorching ovens.

My rhubarb cobbler oozes yet more succulent fruit
with every twinge of pain, every self-discovery
that goes undocumented.
These days my famous toffee bars
are overflowing their trays with caramel,
no end to the decadent treasures
they hold deeply within.

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.

Writer and Poet

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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.[…]

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