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a poem by Tricia McCallum March 26, 2020. city street crowded with pedestrians.

Before

it was easy.
our worries were
trifles.
divisions of labor
who did more.
she didn’t really, did she?
how could they?
before
we were cruel.
judgments came swift and brutal.
withholding likes and retweets
the kind word for one small and mean.
before we were cavalier
we knew nothing.
but we can learn.
now we will learn
it was easy
before.

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.

Entreaties

 

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.


 

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.

 

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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