Jean McCallion

TPS Founding Member



Jean McCallion at her desk

Biography of Jean McCallion

What Writing Means to Me

As a five-year-old child I can remember sitting on a steep hillside in a Toronto park, having been brought there by my parents to watch the Victoria Day display of fireworks. The sight of the pyrotechnics made me forget the dampness of the night air and I shivered at the magic of the sparkling explosions overhead.

Writing a poem can be exciting, can be fun. It is hard work, however, and dangerous because the poet deals in volatile materials: words can be highly combustible unless handled carefully to produce the desired effect. Here is no place for fizzle and sputter. When this poet-artificer lights the fuse to let her poem go she hopes it will be a source of amusement and delight. What a thrill if it is. What surprise at certain effects not planned.

Are there rewards for writing? Only if the poem strikes that spark of interest that illuminates a dark field, a blank sky. Then composing a poem will be worth every minute of sitting on that cold hard ground.


Jean McCallion




In the heyday of our blood
and the blossoming of our valley
all down the sun-filled afternoons
we ran willful as wildfire

Nor cared which apple trees we climbed
green leaves licking green apples
trees glowing in white heat petals
wooden baskets between the rows

Ran and ran until we outran
ourselves      ran until we
fell      our mouths watering for those
twin bites of one red apple




That moment
in the garden
next morning
after the banquet
in the Royal York Hotel
the sun so hot
and I wore a hat

The hatís brim tipped
to cut out the sunís rays
Your finger lifted my chin
Your tongue spoke
Your lips touched my cheek . . .

I remember . . .
and the nodding of the flowers




All day long the August sun breathed
out its hot breath:
inflamed the lane of poplars
fired our farmhouse windows
irradiated sunflowers
scorched the stony pastures
slow-moving cattle under tree-umbrellas.

In the fields jabbering corn
boisterous farmhands
eager for the harvest.

Of all days to record
this August day is one:

Overhead a burning blue sky
underfoot the smoking road
your step rhyming mine
our joined hands sweating.

Tousled dandelions and frazzled daisies
racing us to the river.



My husband Bill McCallion had the muscular degenerative disease called Parkinsonís for 29 years before his death April 18, 1998. The pain in the next poem is emotional pain. Bill often said to me, "Jean, Iím lucky. I donít have any pain." But Parkinsonís can cripple one emotionally. You donít want the reality of it to dominate. Even when great courage is evident, it dominates without your approval.



What about those missed ways
when your eyes wandered from mine

Past the ragged edges of trees
over the mountainís shaggy brow
beyond the blue of the cloudless sky

Where were your eyes going
when I looked up
but couldnít follow their pain



In this narrow bed tonight
no words are needed
our two bodies speak
their own eloquent language.

No question about it:
some days we needed words
dug way down deep to find them

Wrestled shadows of our former selves
to unearth words at rock bottom.

Lord knows how many times
lovers have sought them:
look at their solemn vows
their broken promises.

But tonight in this narrow bed
no words are needed.

In the light of its own day
tomorrow will keep hidden
                our sweating
                our breaking.



Lacklustre slack
the branches of this apple tree

whose stage-struck leaves exploded myths
whose star-like blossoms flocked to summer openings

detached the leaves
dried up the apples
hanging by invisible threads
to jerk in a comic age-old tempo

I alone remembering past performances
the drama of parted red velvet curtains



This day is too short
that at the going down of the sun
will see you gone

How can I walk this way again
among these listening trees
their thick dark branches

Crowded together on every side
to shut out a weak sun struggling
against the rapacious night

O evening sky
bruised red purple
by wings of startled birds!



Time no more
holds you dying
gripped in an iron vise
not of your own devising

Limitless space
contains you now
you have reached
a heightened place

Your marker
an armspan of rose granite
describes only your ashes
soon to become soil

In the next millenium
sift closer to earthís center

Behind memoryís shutters
in half-light
the night air deep-breathing
at the window




Come to me at dawn
when the grass is wet
with studded stars

Come to me at noon
when clover is spicy
and cattle loll

Come to me at dusk
when the tall heron
stands stiff-legged in lake water

Come to me when the harvest moon
floats languid through branches
of our maple tree

Lover -
when the moon blows her luminous bubbles
moonlight makes me believe
in make-believe



Here in this poem
bound by lines and spaces
you are my everywhere

where there is no night
or any kind of death
only you forever

and I by my window
barely seeing my hand
before my face

set you here
in a rare amber light
the moon filtering my fingers

fashioning a catís cradle
a closed ring
this looped string of words



Jean McCallion discusses her work
with Tower Editor, Jeff Seffinga

Jean McCallion
Jean was born in North Bay, Ontario, and educated in Toronto and Sudbury schools. She is a graduate of McMaster University, B.A. Honours English 1944; M.A. English 1972.

In 1944 she married William J. (Bill) McCallion, late professor of Mathematical Sciences, a former Dean of the School of Adult Education at McMaster University. They had two sons and two daughters; at this time she has seven grandchildren.

Jean is a Founding Member of the Tower Poetry Society and has served on its executive as President, Archivist, and editor of Tower Poetry. She has also served as chair of the Literary Committee of the Hamilton and Region Arts Council. Her poems have regularly appeared in TOWER since its inception in 1951. Many more have appeared in periodicals and anthologies in Canada and elsewhere.

In 1981 Sheila Martindale of South Western Ontario Poetry published her chapbook, APPLE LOVE. A full-length collection, TOUGH ROOTS, was brought out in 1987 by Penumbra Press. Her current work-in-progress, from which most of the poems here were taken, is entitled LOVE LETTERS TO BILL. Apple Valley and Structuring Not Found in Ordinary Prose are from APPLE LOVE.

Return to top of page
    Next Feature