Life’s not hard enough,
And even though we call on everything we know
We may summon the gods, too.
The sky. And the sky above that.
The exchange of unmentionables between mouths.
Other people’s shame.
My friend says we never write about anything we can ever figure out.
For him, it always involves sadness.
For me, it’s a language I haven’t quite found the language for yet.
The astonishing smell of a baby’s head. Morning coffee perfectly doctored.
Clothes fresh from the line. Mark Knopfler’s ballads.
The sound of someone leaving who doesn’t want to be heard.
Other voices in other rooms.
The day I decided getting out of bed was a greater effort than I could summon.
The high school dance at St. Joe’s where I stood all night against the wall pretending it didn’t matter. The time in Grade Six when Sister Benedict asked us what we wanted to be and I said poet
and they all laughed. Poetry lurks in the lines between things most important and least said.
A way to bear witness that we were here.
How I might have found a way to conjure words no one else had,
if I’d only found them.
~~ Tricia McCallum
(after Rebecca Lindenberg)
I am from my mother’s bed in a Glasgow tenement and walls
thick with coal dust.
I am from Saturday confession and identical Catholic school uniforms
and unflinching patriarchy.
I am from melancholy to the marrow of my bones.
I am from not up to it but showing up anyway.
I am from faking it so very well no one ever knows.
I am from a lifetime of hard-won lessons of when to shut up and
when to kick doors down.
I am from finessing the difference
I am from reading the room the way all women must.
I am from puffers and steroids and Prozac and poetry.
I am from squamous cells and ovarian tumors.
I am from kicked to the curb and too tired to care.
I am from returning home scared to death.
I am from swallowing bile.
I am from too many calm downs and too few stand ups.
I am from too smart for my own good.
I am from you’ll never get a man that way.
I am from childlessness.
I am from bartending and short order cooking and cold calling and
traveling the world alone.
I am from 36,000 feet up serving cocktails in turbulence and
high heels and tight skirts and never spilling a drop.
I am from 30 feet down in dank basement apartments,
I am from a Glasgow tenement.
I am from losing what mattered most.
I am from survivors.
I am from optimists.
I am from unbridled love.
I am from a place called I’m still here.
We are left adrift it seems.
Dr Laura is too busy plugging window blinds to be taken seriously.
And these days Dr. Phil appears a mere dead eyed huckster
for his wife’s line of miraculous subterranean botanicals.
Archbishops are led away in handcuffs
while princes in island mansions prey upon the under-aged.
In search of wisdom we seek out the ancients,
the tried and true,
yet again resurrecting their voices that remain intact,
unsullied by dictates of time
Can their savvy translate to the now?
Would Plato mask? Sappho march for choice?
I somehow cannot picture Marcus Aurelius open carrying.
We tease out the answers as best we can.
Learn yet again that wisdom cannot be hijacked off a page
but comes deep within the bone
over canyons of time
and to precious few.
For all of the girls and the women who trusted too much… those found and never found, the lost ones, the lonely ones, whose stories go untold, their heartache entombed alongside them.
Last Text from Gabby Petito
No service here, but at least I’m free
from the cage bars of my body;
remember what I’d blogged in observation
of birds, chipmunks fattened on the scraps
left in abandoned campsites in the cold
after the fires are snuffed out, and the stars—
oh, these stars—how they’re arranged
without number, and how they disclaim
the disappearances inferred of them,
but instead declare the secrets upon
which all darkness preys. Insects
I doodled on notecards
and sent home already will testify
of my whereabouts—imagine the how,
the when, the why revealed in the
caricature of the dragonfly—
I’ve lain looking up so long,
the windswept grass retains
the shape of my body, moonlights
as my spine; after the rain,
the sky in some parallel agony
soaked out of me some heavier
silence I’d always felt in the earth,
and to it, a kind of mooring far more
real than the live honeysuckle
and wild licorice I could almost
smell; and the caddis with their assorted
thoraxes retract into clipped
thumbnails and cut
grass; their buds—my own
body—are, to the pile of ants,
a worthy and contrite fodder.
What astonishing weight
my own thoughts make
at the moment, the unravelling
of many ropes set to anchor;
think tie-dyed everything,
the clasping peppergrass
and what lies in the green water
under algae, what sloshes through
the culverts mixed with sand
and gravel. Please know I was not
gunned down or knived in half,
but cast on a spit; I was spun
clay on the wheel of a potter.
He created the soul of me.
He loved me, then hated me.
He hated me, then kissed me.
He kissed me, then hit me.
The ocean of him swept
over me, a certain, undocumented
upwelling, of all the places we’d been,
cheap-shotted and piece-mealed out
to sea; and even here I am writing
in my mind that knows nothing but
to feel my heart leap out and breathe
into me everything that had died
in it before.
~~ Susan Doble Kaluza
The test results we await from teachers and doctors
are neither good or bad –
But we give that time away in worry,
the between time.
The tent posts of our lives, ever the attention whores,
the limelight stealers.
But it should count for something.
The dense weighty bud of the peony, its tight, shy secrecy
before its brazen unfolding.
Anticipation can be delicious,
the finale but a part.
Your wait for the bus at dusk in the cold
when a stranger mentions the bruised light in the sky.
That’s what he called it:
Pay day, two days away,
but while you waited,
those delicious dollar store finds.
Your long destination drive,
so full of discovery all on its own.
The café owner in Alameda with his Hollywood memorabilia.
And wasn’t Joan Crawford a firebrand.
I am always amazed when any of us are asked
what we value most
and we don’t say
Outside my window it’s never the same—
some mornings jasmine slaps the house, some mornings sorrow.
There is a word I overheard today, meaning lost
not on a career path or across a floating bridge:
Boketto—to stare out windows without purpose.
Don’t laugh; it’s been too long since we leaned
into the morning: bird friendly coffee and blueberry toast. Awhile
since I declared myself a prophet of lost cats—blind lover
of animal fur and feral appetites. Someone should tag
a word for the calm of a long marriage. Knowledge
the heat will hold, and our lights remain on— a second
sight that drives the particulars of a life: sea glass and salt,
cherry blossoms and persistent weeds. What assembles in the middle
distance beyond the mail truck; have I overlooked oceans,
ignored crows? I try to exist in the somehow, the might still be—
gaze upward to constellations of in-between.
Others’ lives are on full display here.
Through the late afternoon
The light makes its way through motes of dust
Onto collection after collection.
The shrewd pickers look right past the string of musty pearls
That catch my eye,
Honing in instead on a pair of tiny opal earrings
With an eye to resale.
They know how this is done.
A table off on its own offers cloth-bound books
Arranged by colour.
Who would devise such bizarre cataloguing?
Pride and Prejudice propped up against
Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy,
With their similar covers of cherry red.
An exhibit of photographs comes next.
The people shown with seemingly little to smile about.
Matching sepia toned oval photos show three young girls, sisters it would appear,
The outer plastic sheath now splintered and yellowed.
Obscuring, endangering, what it was once
Meant to preserve.
The savvy pickers haggle now with the bored shopkeeper
But none seem the least concerned
About the back story. Who might the earrings have been worn by, I wonder.
What young girl’s hands carefully inserted the tiny buds?
Before what special evening.
What hopes lay in her heart as she descended the stairs for the dance.
Did she later tuck them away for a daughter
Who was never meant to be?
We want it all to mean something.
So we hold on to the unremarkable snapshots of those long dead,
A child’s single mitten,
An ancient love letter in painstaking calligraphic script.
A matted braid of strawberry blond hair
From whose head we shall never know.
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 could never deliver.
Dig out old love letters, the ones received,
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.
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.