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.

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.

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.

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.

I read my poem “The Once and Future Beauty Queens.”

Click and listen here. https://youtu.be/6ujj9r1Ywho

Here is the poem’s text.

The Once and Future Beauty Queens.

At the A&P in my first part-time job
it was the full time cashiers I studied most.
They seemed savvy and
at 16 I was looking for ways to be.

I watched them on breaks from my corner perch
in the crowded airless lunchroom, upstairs in the back,
all smoking roll-your-owns, laughing nervously at the men’s crude jokes,
carefully picking stray flakes of tobacco off their crimsoned lips,
in this small northern town looks their only currency.

The older women like Evelyn were quiet, would light one off the other,
eyes on the clock, sullen,
counting down their moments of freedom
and how many they could power through before time was up.

Laughing the loudest was Shirley, the head cashier, smarter than the rest.
Her lipstick bled all day on a slightly trembling mouth,
her deep well of sadness pouring forth even as she laughed,
this one-time looker, this prom queen gone wrong.
The story went her husband beat her,
but never where the marks would show.

I can still smell the place,
the filthy overcrowded fridge packed with
meatloaf sandwiches and last night’s chili,
Dutch the butcher’s apron soaked in blood,
his cuticles caked red.

The sounds come back clearly too,
breaking apart our folded white cotton uniforms stiff with starch,
the click of the pricing guns resounding up and down the aisles,
the funereal clunk of time cards being punched at the top of the stairs,
the defeat in Evelyn’s voice over the crackling p.a. system,
calling wearily “All parcellers to the front.”

And how there was a pecking order to everything, even this:
How the prettiest girls were the first to get help at their tills,
young boys rushing into their stalls behind them,
as horses into gates,
eager to package groceries every Friday night
for the current beauty queens.

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?

I read my poem “Enough.”

 

She was impossibly beautiful, astoundingly poised. She was, on that summer evening as she stood by the camp fire, perfect.

There are moments in our lives that change us and how we see ourselves forever. There are also people that have that same effect on us. Yvonne who I write about here, was one of those people in my life.

Here is text of the poem:

Enough

A barbecue and swim after work had brought us together
around the campfire that summer evening,
An impromptu thing teenagers do best:
You bring the beer. I’ll bring the chips.

I watched her run up from the water laughing.
As I write this her name comes back to me: Yvonne.
Fresh from her swim she stood close to the fire
in her tiny yellow bikini
drying her waist-length sheet of onyx-colored hair with a towel.

She seemed so utterly assured of herself in the task at hand,
so composed for a young girl,
tossing her head languidly from side to side
then taking a large hounds tooth comb and slowly
pulling it through
that glorious hair of hers.

She must have known we all followed her every move,
couldn’t help but know it by the silence
that had enveloped her ritual,
the flames casting an unreal glow on that hair,
that perfect form and face.

The men particularly stared in awe
at this goddess from Okinawa
who’d ended up in our backwater
of all places,
in their midst.

I watched the men’s faces watching her
that night,
knowing even at 16 I would never possess the audacity
that was Miss Yvonne Tsubone’s that night,
and for as long as it lasted,
that which comes from sheer and absolute
physical beauty,
a calling card that says,
without words:
I am perfect just as I am:
what I am is
enough.

 

 

 

a poem by Tricia McCallum. April 12, 2020. Old photos in a shoe box.

Easter Morning, Once

A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.
Helmet-like perms, and all of us
in soft white cotton gloves, with vertical ridges stitched in
above each knuckle, so they stood up,
like Mickey Mouse’s on Saturday mornings.
The matching hats were courtesy of Jackson’s Department Store’s bargain bin,
Fill a basket, five bucks out the door,
their out-sized pink and blue plastic daisies haphazardly attached,
head wear designed for the deranged.

Our conspiratorial looks as we were herded together
for the obligatory snapshot, sentries,
shivering,
on the stone steps after Mass,
the sunlight harsh on a still-frigid April morning,
our flimsy ethereal dresses of Swiss dot, atop stiff crinolines
lofting in the wind.

Embarrassed by my sturdy white knee socks,
I yearned for the silk stockings
worn by my older sisters, who flanked me.
The three of us stationed solemnly behind
our younger brother, happy to form his own line,
quietly proud of his clip on bow-tie and tartan vest
and perfectly pressed little wool trousers.

Chins up! Stand straight! came the reprimands,
but not one of us listened.
At least one child would turn her head away that day
just as the shutter clicked.
Another would squint unbecomingly against the glare.

And the third, the face of the third girl
would show to the camera a look of such sadness
as is unimaginable in one so young.

Now the photo retrieved, scrutinized,
one of dozens piled haphazardly
in this battered shoe-box,
the sorting job no one ever took on,
these celluloid witnesses to our lives.
Its edges scalloped like icing on a cake,
bearing hairline cracks, some of our heads and limbs
torn asunder,
the truest chronicle of those years,
forensic in its revelations,
bringing with it the simple message
that each of us might have done better
if we’d only known how.

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