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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.

a poem by Tricia McCallum. April 10,. 2020. A long apartment hallway, dimly lit.

Apartment 110

You find the family you need.
Marilyn, a somewhat cured agoraphobic and hoarder,
in the one bedroom to my right,
appeared at my apartment door one night at 3 am
and announced “Never get married,”
before turning on her heel.
At that same door she told me I needed
only five pieces in my wardrobe. Black and white. Classics.
Don’t bother with the rest.
When I tried quitting smoking I enlisted her
to help wean me off, agreed she would ration me,
leave three cigarettes
in my milk chute every day.
First day they were burned to nubs by noon.
She suspected her European husband was a spy
and walked in careful circles around him,
a slippery tyrant who played Wagner every Sunday morning.
So loud it once knocked a picture off my wall, breaking it.
Furious, I headed over.
When he flung open the door I saw, instantly,
the chaos Marilyn had been living with
all this time.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. Apriil 1, 2020. A couple hugging in a public square.

Holding On

Foreboding. This new world.
Hit home for me just this instant
That the fear has seeped in through the cracks
When just this instant, surfing online,
I came across a photo of a couple sharing an embrace.
A warm hug out in public somewhere.
My first thought, not,
Sweet picture, they’re in love,
But instead,
Instinctively, involuntarily,

This:
They are foolhardy.
They haven’t protected themselves.
These two are in danger.

A poem by Tricia McCallum April 2, 2020. A rainy day in traffic.

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.

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.

 

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.

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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