Life’s not hard enough,
And even though we call on everything we know
We may summon the gods, too.
The sky. And the sky above that.
The exchange of unmentionables between mouths.
Other people’s shame.
My friend says we never write about anything we can ever figure out.
For him, it always involves sadness.
For me, it’s a language I haven’t quite found the language for yet.
The astonishing smell of a baby’s head. Morning coffee perfectly doctored.
Clothes fresh from the line. Mark Knopfler’s ballads.
The sound of someone leaving who doesn’t want to be heard.
Other voices in other rooms.
The day I decided getting out of bed was a greater effort than I could summon.
The high school dance at St. Joe’s where I stood all night against the wall pretending it didn’t matter. The time in Grade Six when Sister Benedict asked us what we wanted to be and I said poet
and they all laughed. Poetry lurks in the lines between things most important and least said.
A way to bear witness that we were here.
How I might have found a way to conjure words no one else had,
if I’d only found them.
~~ Tricia McCallum
(after Rebecca Lindenberg)
I am from my mother’s bed in a Glasgow tenement and walls
thick with coal dust.
I am from Saturday confession and identical Catholic school uniforms
and unflinching patriarchy.
I am from melancholy to the marrow of my bones.
I am from not up to it but showing up anyway.
I am from faking it so very well no one ever knows.
I am from a lifetime of hard-won lessons of when to shut up and
when to kick doors down.
I am from finessing the difference
I am from reading the room the way all women must.
I am from puffers and steroids and Prozac and poetry.
I am from squamous cells and ovarian tumors.
I am from kicked to the curb and too tired to care.
I am from returning home scared to death.
I am from swallowing bile.
I am from too many calm downs and too few stand ups.
I am from too smart for my own good.
I am from you’ll never get a man that way.
I am from childlessness.
I am from bartending and short order cooking and cold calling and
traveling the world alone.
I am from 36,000 feet up serving cocktails in turbulence and
high heels and tight skirts and never spilling a drop.
I am from 30 feet down in dank basement apartments,
I am from a Glasgow tenement.
I am from losing what mattered most.
I am from survivors.
I am from optimists.
I am from unbridled love.
I am from a place called I’m still here.
We are left adrift it seems.
Dr Laura is too busy plugging window blinds to be taken seriously.
And these days Dr. Phil appears a mere dead eyed huckster
for his wife’s line of miraculous subterranean botanicals.
Archbishops are led away in handcuffs
while princes in island mansions prey upon the under-aged.
In search of wisdom we seek out the ancients,
the tried and true,
yet again resurrecting their voices that remain intact,
unsullied by dictates of time
Can their savvy translate to the now?
Would Plato mask? Sappho march for choice?
I somehow cannot picture Marcus Aurelius open carrying.
We tease out the answers as best we can.
Learn yet again that wisdom cannot be hijacked off a page
but comes deep within the bone
over canyons of time
and to precious few.
Simply too good not to share..
There’s a dark so deep beneath the sea the creatures beget their own
light. This feat, this fact of adaptation, I could say, is beautiful
though the creatures are hideous. Lanternfish. Hatchetfish. Viperfish.
I, not unlike them, forfeited beauty to glimpse the world hidden
by eternal darkness. I subsisted on falling matter, unaware
from where or why matter fell, and on weaker creatures beguiled
by my luminosity. My hideous face opening, suddenly, to take them
into a darkness darker and more eternal than this underworld
underwater. I swam and swam toward nowhere and nothing.
I, after so much isolation, so much indifference, kept going
even if going meant only waiting, hovering in place. So far below, so far
away from the rest of life, the terrestrial made possible by and thereby
dependent upon light, I did what I had to do. I stalked. I killed.
I wanted to feel in my body my body at work, working to stay
alive. I swam. I kept going. I waited. I found myself without meaning
to, without contriving meaning at the time, in time, in the company
of creatures who, hideous like me, had to be their own illumination.
Their own god. Their own genesis. Often we feuded. Often we fused
like anglerfish. Blood to blood. Desire to desire. We were wild. Bewildered.
Beautiful in our wilderness and wildness. In the most extreme conditions
we proved that life can exist. I exist. I am my life, I thought, approaching
at last the bottom of the sea. It wasn’t the bottom.
It wasn’t the sea.
~~ Paul Tran
Outside my window it’s never the same—
some mornings jasmine slaps the house, some mornings sorrow.
There is a word I overheard today, meaning lost
not on a career path or across a floating bridge:
Boketto—to stare out windows without purpose.
Don’t laugh; it’s been too long since we leaned
into the morning: bird friendly coffee and blueberry toast. Awhile
since I declared myself a prophet of lost cats—blind lover
of animal fur and feral appetites. Someone should tag
a word for the calm of a long marriage. Knowledge
the heat will hold, and our lights remain on— a second
sight that drives the particulars of a life: sea glass and salt,
cherry blossoms and persistent weeds. What assembles in the middle
distance beyond the mail truck; have I overlooked oceans,
ignored crows? I try to exist in the somehow, the might still be—
gaze upward to constellations of in-between.
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.
The Elephant Man finally relented.
He wondered what it would be like to just once
sleep like other people.
So he laid his gigantic head down on a pillow
instead of resting it atop his knees.
Just that once.
By morning he had suffocated under the weight of it.
In some people’s lives
there are no words for happiness.
There are only ones for sorrow.
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 could never deliver.
Dig out old love letters, the ones received,
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.
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
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.