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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 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. 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.

a poem by Tricia McCallum March 26, 2020 - candle votives flickering in rows.

Underneath

There are always good people.
Helping.
Mr. Rogers was right.
Just yesterday the man on the plane
who saw me struggling with the overhead bin,
jumped up, took over, smiling.
The mother of three across the aisle
handing out cleaning wipes,
her children willingly helping.
The flight attendant, struggling with her face mask,
joking with her colleague:
“If I hyperventilate behind this, you got me, right?”
The Customs official facing a sea of disgruntled travelers,
asking me if I had fever or sickness: I told him no.
“I’m happy you’re well,” he said, before sending me on.
Heads up, people.
We have widely different families and streets and seas,
but underneath it all
we share a beating human heart,
the same skies and sun,
the same bewitching moon.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. Photo of vintage typewriter.

Becoming a Poet: A Complete How-To.

Absorb whatever is around you
Like a box of baking soda in the fridge.
Be prone to hangnails
and mysterious rashes.
Cancel plans at the last minute.
Be unapologetic when saying no.
Judge nothing as beneath you, beyond you,
or outside your realm of interest.
Know everyone has a story to tell.
Carry a large overdraft on your checking account.
Dwell, no, fixate, on detail.
Realize everything matters or nothing does.
Wear an inordinate amount of black.
Or white.
Don’t mix.
Write poems you want to read.
Jot ideas on restaurant napkins.
Lose them.
Carry an extra pen.
Become accustomed to letters beginning
We regret to inform you.
Ignore them.
Write some more.

 

 
A poem by Tricia McCallum 2020. A bride sitting on a chair alone at her wedding.

1/120th of A Second

Is sometimes all it takes to capture happiness.
If you’re lucky.
I’ve done it. Thousands of times.

It never felt like a Nikon
I was holding in my hands
but their lives.

The hours alone are punishing,
arriving at first light at the bride’s parent’s house
before the makeup even goes on.

Forty pounds of equipment in tow,
sunrise, nerves
already beginning to fray.

The bride for starters is never quite satisfied with
her dress or her hair
or her bridesmaids.

The groom often bears the look of someone
who has just been given
some very bad news.

Groomsmen are a particular challenge.
Lining them up,
they visibly stiffen.

Roll your shoulders, unclench your jaw.
Pretend you have actually met, I cajole.
To no avail.

And there’s always the visual artiste in the crowd
who tries wresting the camera away from you,
just for fun.

By the time I get to grab a bite
the buffet has been ravaged.
The wedding cake looks like a Dali painting.

Drunken husbands and wives
remembering their own ancient vows
push themselves in front of me at night’s end.

I still love her, you know, he slurs.
She rolls her eyes, shakily fixing her lipstick
before I freeze them in the blink of an eye.

I am always the last to leave
in the wee hours
just as the cleaners arrive.

I gather them together
for the last image of the day
They wonder why the fuss.

They talk about this woman heading off alone in the dark.
Exhausted
from chasing happiness all day long.

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.

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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