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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.

(goodreads.com contest winner).

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.

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. 

If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home

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 airplane stairs,
on their way to Canada
and to second unimaginable lives.

Plane load after plane load,
week after week, three 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 witnesses of unimaginable horror.

We delivered them to Gander, 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 we dimmed  the cabin lights,
hearing their guarded whispers
to one another,
sharing late night confessions in the dark
high above the ocean,
these people for whom
no sadness had gone unknown.

It was boarding them I remember most.
Even when I urged them
up the aircraft stairs, off the blistering tarmac,
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 wild and inconceivable freedom.

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

At what cost?

I’ve been thinking about social media a great deal. It is an unequaled tool for writers, manna from heaven actually as a way to connect with readers, old and new. But at what cost, I wonder? In its formidable wake, what is it that we are relinquishing?  

Are we forsaking the art of conversation? The glorious handwritten letter that flutters through the mailbox? The relaxed, cozy, stop and chat????

Here is a poem that resulted from my musings:

 

Bowed in Prayer.

At the Olive Garden on a Friday night, on my own,

I have just ordered the Tour of Italy and

notice the family huddled into a booth across the way,

six of them, three each side,

their heads collectively bowed over a cornucopia of glowing electronic boxes,

their fingers tapping away at microscopic keys,

the light reaching up to their faces at speeds

impossible to imagine.

So enchanted is the group with the cavalcade of data

pouring forth beneath them that I count a full two minutes

before any of them notices the waitress,

standing waiting at the head of their table.

Shall I come back, she asks graciously,

exhibiting a patience far above her pay scale.

 

Yeh, the one nearest to her finally pipes up,

the closest he’ll come to a conversation all weekend, 

and he didn’t even lift his head to say it.

So It Begins

So It Begins.

If I’m looking for the seeds of
my intolerance of injustice
I need look no further
than a Grade Nine girls’ only Health class.

Sister St. Cletus calling us up to the front,
two or three at a time, those still seated
charged with critiquing, in turn,
on a scale of one to ten,
each of the girls’ personal grooming.

The plump unkempt Rosario
newly arrived from Sicily suffered most.
The bookish pale Margaret also paid dearly.

It wasn’t just that the exercise was callous, arbitrary.
It was its pitting girl against girl for reasons entirely inconsequential,
the time and sheer energy it exacted,
the pitiful tears shed privately after,
when those same girls
could have been banding together and begin to
change the world.
I asked my friend Chuck what the boys did.
Turns out their Health class was held outdoors.
They ran the city streets in all weather,
he said proudly,
in matching shorts and tees,
a pack, cohesive,
strong
and growing stronger.

Distance

A prose poem sparked by a mention of trains I came across this morning …
I remember hearing a train whistle in the distance the night my mother died. I was in her home that night, sleeping in the front room on the couch because for some reason I couldn’t bear the idea of going to bed. I was in the first stage of grief, the shell shock of it when you feel wrapped in thick layers of cotton wool, looking out from inside a bell jar. I lay there, sleepless, trying to distract myself by making a mental list of all that needed to be done the next day. Suddenly I heard it, ever so faintly.
We lived very close to train tracks when I was a child and this served as part of the soundtrack of my young life. The sound of that whistle unleashed such sorrow in me that I remember it well even now, 25 years later. it was then that I wept. Wept for losing my lovely mother too soon. Wept because I would never again hear her sweet Scots’ voice commanding the very best in me.
Wept. Because the sound echoed the emptiness I would now always feel with her gone.

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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