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A poem by Tricia McCallum. April 11, 2020. A bare light bulb.

Exactly When I Changed Everything

It was the night the water pump blew on my Datsun
To be exact.
Heading out in a sudden snowstorm late on a Sunday evening,
Leaving you standing at your apartment door in your bathrobe,
Me as independent as ever, you
As oblivious.
With a breezy “Drive Safe” your send-off.

In the elevator, seething
That you had allowed me to go.
Waiting, hoping
You would head me off
Like in the movies.

The gauges on my dashboard went haywire
Just as I was turning on to the freeway.
My temperamental car sputtered to a stop
On the snow clogged shoulder.
Flagging down a passing car, the wind biting,
Then the interminable wait for the tow truck.
Two guys in the front seat, smoking,
Black Crows blasting from the open windows.
Always the same two guys, it seems.

Hooking up the derelict car,
squeezing into the front alongside them,
Inching through the blizzard to the waterfront
To the only garage still open,
Where I rushed to the washroom in the back,
The predictable bare bulb over the nasty sink,
The walls lined with pornographic photos.

I slowly cleared away the grime from the mirror
Succumbing finally to tears
That would not be held back.
Despite my cloudy reflection
Staring back at me on that frigid night
In that repulsive back room,
I saw all too clearly
The wrong car,
The wrong guy,
The wrong life.

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. April 7, 2020. A bird perched on the pages of an open book.

You. New.

It’s become a time to discover things about yourself
you never knew.
This very day you realize
you are quite content sitting,
alone, silent,
watching the birds come and go
at the feeder outside your window,
unconcerned of how much time is passing.
You may even search for a long ago gift from a friend,
a book you scarcely glanced at,
just now come to your mind –
Birds of Canada: Species and Habits.
You open page one.
Ready now, finally,
to learn.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. April 3, 2020. A parched field under a dark cloud filled sky.

Dream State

The world is sharing a recurring dream.
Every night we fall asleep
and take up the same challenge.

All of us are stretched out
shoulder to shoulder in an endless line,
sprinting feverishly
across a barren landscape under heavy cloud.

An elusive shape pursues us from behind.
We know not why.
All we hear is the person next to us breathing
and the thunder of our feet pounding the ground
as we run.
Some of us tire more easily, rest, and start again.
No judgments are made.
We are united in this common purpose,
this breathless escape.

Every time we glance backward
the specter appears closer,
changing shape as it nears.
One minute a mammoth tumbleweed made not of brush
but of thick curled barbed wire,
next, feral snarling beasts snapping at our heels,
then, hideous vultures filling the sky overhead,
circling ever closer.

Our predator will look different tomorrow night
when we face it yet again.
We know there is nothing for us
but to outdistance it,
together.

In this same dream
the world shares a wish.
That we awaken in our beds tomorrow morning,
to the world we once blithely shared,
knowing this was all
only a dream.

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. March 31, 2020. A woman crouching in the light from a window.

Praying: A Guide.

There are a million ways to pray.
Not one of has anything to do with an oak pew,
A kneeling bench,
Or a robed someone on high.

Nothing special is needed.
The quiet is not a prerequisite.
A seat on a New York subway,

Sure.
Better yet,
A carnival ride at full tilt.

Or, then again,
The middle of nowhere,
Your authentic voice the only sound at all.

Be anywhere.
Start with the words I wish.
Or I tried.
Even
Thank you.
 
Forget dogma, the King James version, the scripted.
Think small.
Think you.

A poem by Tricia McCallum March 2020. A redheaded girl in the bright sunshine.

The Unburdened Goodbye

Never the one you think
Never the one that should.
Never the right time
Or enough time.
Never again the sweet lull
of the day-to-day.

No more easy solace
Or just passing time.
Gone the open-ended chat
The breezy how are you
The unburdened goodbye.

Never again
The unbridled laughter
The unaffected innocence
The making sense.
Never again the sweet lull
of the day-to-day.

A poem by Tricia McCallum March 27 2020. A spinning carousel at a midway.

Absolutes

I want to be certain like a map.
Certain like a stop sign.
I want to get off this rocketing carousel.
Stop playing Russian Roulette
With my thermometer.
Trust that a sniffle isn’t a harbinger of doom.
Stop extrapolating every ache and pain.
I want normal to be normal again.
Because normal never looked so good.

a poem by Tricia McCallum March 26, 2020. city street crowded with pedestrians.

Before

it was easy.
our worries were
trifles.
divisions of labor
who did more.
she didn’t really, did she?
how could they?
before
we were cruel.
judgments came swift and brutal.
withholding likes and retweets
the kind word for one small and mean.
before we were cavalier
we knew nothing.
but we can learn.
now we will learn
it was easy
before.

It’s Only Natural

I am not immune to the wonders of the natural world.
I have seen peacock feathers under a microscope.
I know birds retrieve lint from the ears
Of a musk ox carcass to construct their downy nests.
I realize that the grand canyon of Mars
Is the same size as the United States.
I too know that when a blue whale dives deepest
Its massive heart slows down to two beats a minute.

But none, for me,
Can rank with a heated conversation one dressing room over at Marshall’s.
A debate in a movie lineup about the merits of Scorcese vs. Tarantino.
One Raymond Carver poem.
Give me the Lives column in a New York Times Magazine
About the writer’s troubled child.
Let me in on that moment when you knew it was over.
There for me lie the mysteries I care to unravel,
The fleeting moments between us drawing me back
Time and time again.

Hike your mountain. Portage the greatest rivers.
Give names to all the stars and constellations you have ever seen.
Then tell me about it when you get home.

** Photo by Joel Koop.

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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