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In a Maine Junk Shop

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.

Sadness For Beginners

Start small.
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 knew
you could never deliver.

Dig out old love letters, the ones received,
even better,
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.

Sunset at Hug Point, Oregon.

Alone Together

None of them ever read fiction
as far as I can remember.
If asked collectively they would no doubt respond
it is a waste of time.

It’s unlikely any of them read poetry
voluntarily,
couldn’t name a poet besides Longfellow
to save their lives.

The men that have come in and out of my life
leave me wondering what they saw in me.
Pragmatists every one,
I realize now.
Not one of them ever ached at a sunset.

Come and see it,
I would plead to each of them,
their unified voice calling back
wearily to me
from other rooms:
It’s just a sunset, Tricia,
There’ll be another tomorrow.

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.

grey microphone with lights in bokeh photography

The Delicate Dance

Poise and abandon.
The art of poetry demands both.
So much in life does.
The karaoke singer summons both and seizes the microphone.
The high diver, too, poised on the edge of the cliff,
the mortician as he confronts human carnage,
the golf pro stepping up to a five foot putt for the win.

It’s a high wire act
perfected, painstakingly,over time.
Remember that job you weren’t close to being qualified for,
you aced the interview.
The hospice nurse asks are you ready
and you don’t look down.
You lie, and say
yes.

Cleaning David Bowie’s Apartment, London’s West End, 1973

It was like any other apartment on my roster.
Untidy, untended.
They all look the same.
Tea stains mottled the kitchen sink,
and the predictable, sad bathtub ring.
The piano where Major Tom was probably composed
sat in a corner, unremarkable, save for its one chipped key.

The bedroom, too, tedious,
a tacky Gothic headboard,
pilled flannel sheets and overcrowded bedside table,
bath towels, mismatched, haphazardly strewn.
Kids’ toys littered the floors and surfaces,
not one of them I hadn’t seen already,
back home in the monotonous Canadian suburbs.

I don’t know what I expected.
Just not ordinary.
I cleaned ordinary all day long.
Perhaps a zig zag lightning bolt slashed in neon across the shower wall,
the tiny golden head of a Grammy statue poking out from the back of a bookshelf.
Violet satin pyjamas precisely folded atop a matching pillowcase
with Bowie emblazoned on both in sequins.

Truth be told, Ziggy,
I still hoped for a glimpse of something
after wringing out my mop for the last time,
perhaps rising suddenly in the air all around me,
amid the motes of dust,
the sudden twinkling shimmer
of stardust.

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.

brown and black medicine tablets on black surface

The Weight of It All

Life’s not hard enough
So let’s invent a foe
So fearless
So shameless
That it doesn’t toy with your dreams
So much as mocks them.
Hands you back a wretched version of yourself
After it’s done its worst.
Has its way with you
Like a slave master of old.

And even though we call on everything we know
In defense,
Science, all of it, yes,
Bring it on,
The tiny powdered cylinders of hope, thrice daily,
The temples gelled, the paddles clamped securely,
Still we are brought to our knees.

We may summon the gods, too
If there be such things,
And if there are,
If there be any,
Now would be the perfect time
For them to show up.

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.

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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