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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.

Grey skies rolling in

I’m Not Sure

This November morning,
the bleak view out my window is the definitive study
in gloom.
Leaving me unsure whether to renounce the whole world
or fall in love with it forever.
Sleet wants to be snow. But snow would be the easy way out.
These leaden mornings grant us permission to bury our feelings
beneath heavy blankets.
But the toll is ultimately levied,
the brutality of these months,
at full bore,
biding time,
waiting to unleash all.

list of names partially blurred. One name must be important among the many.

It Comes Down to This

The myriad charts and graphs of CoVid cases and deaths are numbing. But they all come down to this: one person. One person lost forever to the ones who loved him.

One Name.

It is dizzying,
Numbing in truth,
Front page of Sunday’s New York Times,
One thousand names, printed in rows.
They blur together.
We shut down when faced with such staggering loss.

Among them, this one,
New father Israel Sauz, 22. Broken Arrow Oklahoma,
Who will never know the face of his son.
Israel Sauz, 22,
whose boy will take his first step without him.
And his first turn at bat.
Who will ask about the father he never knew,
To learn they shared a love for poetry,
And a mean curve ball.
That his father batted with his left hand just like him.
His father, Israel Sauz,
Whose poems went unwritten,
Israel Sauz,
Who never held his son.

Big Points for Trying

I was good to animals and small children.
Made room for the guy on the streetcar
who talked to himself.
Even gave him a few bucks.
But truth be told:
I never invited him home to tea.

Didn’t always take the easiest way,
but certainly enough times.
And, yes, vanity got in the way,
more than once —
the fight back from an ugly girlhood.

I frittered away talent,
pearls to swine, some might say,
churning out Annual Reports for rent money,
giving my all on corporate press tours,
with no energy left for the poem.
But a girl’s got to make a living
long seemed a decent excuse.

The world gives you too many reasons
to feel you’re not quite
good enough, talented enough.
accomplished enough.
And there was I —
Listening intently
to each
and every one.

photo of fallen leaves in autumn to accompany my poem about the ending of things

Out There

I just saw a man walking a raccoon on a leash.
I kick a pathway through the foliage to my front door.
So much needs tending.
A flurry of leaves follows me inside,
depositing the season deeply into every corner.
The slanted fall light is so harsh it seems it might lay bare
everything it touches.
And no forgiveness in it.
I smell the winter approaching.
Taste the metallic cold of it in my mouth.
I fear I may have lived my best years.

Final Destination - Poem by Tricia McCallum

I read my poem – If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home.

Click to listen… https://youtu.be/C53vVIfxwdk

If This Is Your Final Destination, Welcome Home.

Always the smell of tiger balm
takes me back to Kuala Lumpur in 1980,
the sweltering airstrips,
the sea of expectant upturned faces
of the refugees waiting en masse
at the bottom of the plane’s stairs,
on their way to Canada
and to second lives.

Plane load after plane load,
week after week, four years running,
we ferried them across oceans.
After days and sometimes weeks in crowded buses
they waited to be next in line,
these survivors of Pol Pot and his merciless Khmer Rouge,
these survivors of unimaginable horror.
We delivered them to Montreal and to Toronto,
away from all they had known,
everything they owned in small tidy bundles at their feet.

We chose our words carefully for the interpreter,
Trying to prepare them in some small way
for what lay ahead.
Where do you begin?
How do you tell someone how cold feels?

We played them music we wanted them to hear,
hits of the day, Blondie, REO Speedwagon,
handed out sandwiches and Pampers and wet naps.
They in turn watched our every move,
accepted anything given to them, suspiciously at first,
then with vigorously nodding heads, pouring forth their thanks,
holding up their solemn, silent babies proudly for us to hold.

When the cabin lights dimmed,
hearing their guarded whispers to one another
sharing late night confessions in the dark,above the ocean,
these people for whom nothing on earth
could be surprising.

Even when I urged them up the aircraft stairs,
beckoned them toward me,
they held back, tentative,
and only when I descended the stairs
took the first of them by the hand,
would they dare take the first step
toward this unimaginable freedom.

I see their faces clearly now and I ask:
Who among us could possibly measure
the courage we asked of them.

I read my poem “The Once and Future Beauty Queens.”

Click and listen here. https://youtu.be/6ujj9r1Ywho

Here is the poem’s text.

The Once and Future Beauty Queens.

At the A&P in my first part-time job
it was the full time cashiers I studied most.
They seemed savvy and
at 16 I was looking for ways to be.

I watched them on breaks from my corner perch
in the crowded airless lunchroom, upstairs in the back,
all smoking roll-your-owns, laughing nervously at the men’s crude jokes,
carefully picking stray flakes of tobacco off their crimsoned lips,
in this small northern town looks their only currency.

The older women like Evelyn were quiet, would light one off the other,
eyes on the clock, sullen,
counting down their moments of freedom
and how many they could power through before time was up.

Laughing the loudest was Shirley, the head cashier, smarter than the rest.
Her lipstick bled all day on a slightly trembling mouth,
her deep well of sadness pouring forth even as she laughed,
this one-time looker, this prom queen gone wrong.
The story went her husband beat her,
but never where the marks would show.

I can still smell the place,
the filthy overcrowded fridge packed with
meatloaf sandwiches and last night’s chili,
Dutch the butcher’s apron soaked in blood,
his cuticles caked red.

The sounds come back clearly too,
breaking apart our folded white cotton uniforms stiff with starch,
the click of the pricing guns resounding up and down the aisles,
the funereal clunk of time cards being punched at the top of the stairs,
the defeat in Evelyn’s voice over the crackling p.a. system,
calling wearily “All parcellers to the front.”

And how there was a pecking order to everything, even this:
How the prettiest girls were the first to get help at their tills,
young boys rushing into their stalls behind them,
as horses into gates,
eager to package groceries every Friday night
for the current beauty queens.

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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Thanks for sharing

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