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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.

Sickly Sweet

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.

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.

February

January’s belligerent sister,
the more troublesome twin.
Its days are longer
But somehow colder.

It promises Monday delivery but doesn’t show.
Sullen, scheming in the corner of the playground,
It doesn’t play well with others.
It summons your worst.

It’s the oil pump that seizes just
As you’re merging on to the freeway.
Ragged cuticles and lizard skin.
Pulling tight turtlenecks over crackling scalps.

It leaves you asking why bother.
Its only job to send you back to bed.
The miser of light, master of mean.
The fortune cookie that gets you all wrong.

(Photo courtesy of James Wysotski)

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.

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.

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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