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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.

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.

Vivid red

Vivid Red

I received this framed portrait in the mail today from a friend of mine. She combined a photo of me with a poem written by my friend the writer Tia Finn. I will treasure this, always, as it was a gift that came straight from their hearts.

Pink Angora

How wrong we can be about the things we think will save us…

I walked behind them on the way home after skating that Saturday night
in my small town.
He was the high school all-star,
she the ice ballerina.

She wore pink angora mittens and a matching beret,
perched at what seemed the perfect angle on her small head,
her white-blond hair cascading down.

She was so small he towered beside her as they walked.
He strode, she with tiny quick mincing steps to keep up,
her little pink furry hand eclipsed inside his enormous one.

She looked up at him often and longingly.
He looked straight ahead and did most of the talking,
I couldn’t imagine that bitter February night
happiness being anywhere but right here,
in front of me,
she at his side,
with a rightful place,
and a way for her to be in this world.

At 15,
it seemed all I needed was there,
in that matching set of woolens
and in a tall young man walking beside me
who could have been anywhere,
anywhere he wanted,
but had chosen here,
with me.

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.

Hands across a table.

Sit Down

Bricks and mortar aren’t what home is:
Granted.
Nor the things we collected,
displayed, lived with.
But isn’t it funny how
often it distills down
to that rickety table with the yellow Formica top
in the centre of our tiny kitchen all those years,
the one we picked up for a song
that no matter how carefully
we teased the two ends apart
would send out the same jarring screech
and how we’d all squeal in fright, as if on cue,
then laugh until it hurt,
before carefully inserting the battered extra leaf
to make room for more.

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.

Big Points for Trying

I was good to animals and small children.
Made room for the guy on the streetcar
who talked to himself.
Even gave him a few bucks.
But truth be told:
I never invited him home to tea.

Didn’t always take the easiest way,
but certainly enough times.
And, yes, vanity got in the way,
more than once —
the fight back from an ugly girlhood.

I frittered away talent,
pearls to swine, some might say,
churning out Annual Reports for rent money,
giving my all on corporate press tours,
with no energy left for the poem.
But a girl’s got to make a living
long seemed a decent excuse.

The world gives you too many reasons
to feel you’re not quite
good enough, talented enough.
accomplished enough.
And there was I —
Listening intently
to each
and every one.

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.

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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Tricia McCallum

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Thanks for sharing

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