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The Things I Learned as a Bartender: My video.

Here is text of the poem –

The Things I Learned as a Bartender

There is no such thing as the perfect martini.
Jazz musicians make lousy tippers.
A couple can walk in fighting and after two shots of tequila
hold each other for dear life on the dance floor
like they did in high school.

A woman doesn’t notice her date’s drink order
as much as how he treats the waitress.
No matter how cool the pickup line
women want kind.
Even with nothing to gain
people can be small and mean.

A table of plastic surgeons
can be more obnoxious, abusive than
a convention of professional wrestlers.
The plain girl alone at the end of the bar
has an achingly beautiful story
no one will hear.
The busboy with the bad skin.
His will also go untold.

Some people cannot be reached.
The hulking cab driver
who climbed the back stairs for his double cheeseburger
every night at 8:30, month after month,
stayed mute, no eye contact. He’d pay with a twenty
and wave away the change.
Leave without a word.
From him I learned
it’s impossible to imagine
all the damage done.

 

 

Hear me reading my poem “Thirst. “

 

Thirst

The sun was hotter:
You can tell.
Look at the people squinting against it in photos then.
Everything washed out by glare:
Faces, thoughts, nuance,
all detail surrendered.
We could be anybody.

The backyards are parched,
Look at them.
It hurt to walk on the grass.
We lay in barren backyards
chain-smoking and eating fluorescent cheesies,
swilling scarlet soda.
We slathered butter on our chests.
Everyone was burned raw.
Everyone looked happy.

Nothing could go wrong.
Caution was ahead of us,
Men were above us,
landing on the moon.

A poem by Tricia McCallum. Entitled Once Trite, Now Wise. April 2020., A tightly wrapped peony bud with aphid atop it.

Once Trite, Now Wise

The everyday extraordinary
Abounds.
As it ever did.
Biding its time until we stop,
Until we notice.

The tiny unheralded jewels nested within our daily lives
That we rushed past, cavalier,
Oblivious.
With no time for the smaller movement,
The goal-less.

We were hell bent on destinations.
Headed to the best seller, the top ten.
There were judgments to render, texts to send.
None of which we remembered
Five minutes after.

Now,
Pause to discover
It is not only the peony in delicious full bloom
That deserves our attention.
Bend down and inspect the tightly wrapped, sleeping bud
Just as it is,
Soon to swarm with the manic aphids that will allow it to be
All it can be.

Watch the dog watching the squirrel.
How the clouds above change shape even as we look away.
The sad supermarket cashier who will remember your smile.
It’s not the goal, it’s the journey.
Once trite, now wise.
Did you know Margaret Atwood also wrote poetry?

a poem by Tricia McCallum. April 12, 2020. Old photos in a shoe box.

Easter Morning, Once

A new dress, even if it had been my sister’s.
Helmet-like perms, and all of us
in soft white cotton gloves, with vertical ridges stitched in
above each knuckle, so they stood up,
like Mickey Mouse’s on Saturday mornings.
The matching hats were courtesy of Jackson’s Department Store’s bargain bin,
Fill a basket, five bucks out the door,
their out-sized pink and blue plastic daisies haphazardly attached,
head wear designed for the deranged.

Our conspiratorial looks as we were herded together
for the obligatory snapshot, sentries,
shivering,
on the stone steps after Mass,
the sunlight harsh on a still-frigid April morning,
our flimsy ethereal dresses of Swiss dot, atop stiff crinolines
lofting in the wind.

Embarrassed by my sturdy white knee socks,
I yearned for the silk stockings
worn by my older sisters, who flanked me.
The three of us stationed solemnly behind
our younger brother, happy to form his own line,
quietly proud of his clip on bow-tie and tartan vest
and perfectly pressed little wool trousers.

Chins up! Stand straight! came the reprimands,
but not one of us listened.
At least one child would turn her head away that day
just as the shutter clicked.
Another would squint unbecomingly against the glare.

And the third, the face of the third girl
would show to the camera a look of such sadness
as is unimaginable in one so young.

Now the photo retrieved, scrutinized,
one of dozens piled haphazardly
in this battered shoe-box,
the sorting job no one ever took on,
these celluloid witnesses to our lives.
Its edges scalloped like icing on a cake,
bearing hairline cracks, some of our heads and limbs
torn asunder,
the truest chronicle of those years,
forensic in its revelations,
bringing with it the simple message
that each of us might have done better
if we’d only known how.

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 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 April 2, 2020. .Incense sticks emitting smoke.

Makeshift

I’ll pick up lattes from that place on 49th you like.
Some Cheese Danish, your favorite.
And stop at the newsstand for the latest rags.
We won’t talk. Promise.
Talk is overrated. Especially now.
Try not to think at all.
Just be.
We’ll entrust time
to do what nothing else will.
What nothing else can.
To bring us back to life,
One moment,
one shallow breath
at a time.

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.

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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