Laura McCullough

Marriage (trajectories)

Last night, on the boardwalk in Asbury Park,
my husband and I went looking for our marriage
in the sea air. A young man suddenly came at us
from the side, screaming, Your face makes me so angry,
I want to smash it
. He was glaring past us to someone
beyond as if we didn’t exist, and our stride, the paced
one of a couple who’ve been together a long time,
carried us just beyond his trajectory, the balled bats
of his arms swooshing behind my back. I turned
on instinct, as if I could help, as if I could do anything
at all, and my husband, curled me into the space
between my body and his, then twirled me back out
to direct me ahead again. It was as if we were dancing.
Though he’d barely lost a step, I lost mine, and stumbled
until I regained our rhythm, and we continued forward,
ignoring what was happening, trying to just go on.



The Public Pool

Maryann recounts how her son nearly drowned
          the day before
and the day before that,          the choking incident.
          I just want some control back in my life.
I laugh, not meaning to be cruel, but can’t help it.

My head aches, guts shot,
          scared and sore and sour and mad
          at the ultra rich
          with their tattooed make-up, collagen and glycolics,
          their bio-sculpting this and that,
          their perfect eye brows,

and all I want is to lie down,
          my morning mantra, Is it bed time yet?

I am tired                    of the drowning child,
                    the sick father,
                    the depressed friend.          Maryann
is near tears now, and I pat her arm,

wondering if this is how America got where it is,
          drunk with fear and desire to stave it off
          by having everything:
                    the big car,
                    big house,
                    big fence to enclose it all,
                    big medicine to keep death at bay.
How much we spend to look like we're immortal.

Maryann's eyes are big and dark
          like a cornered animals.

I smell the fear on our skin.

Come on, let’s take a swim, I say,
and we go out into the crowd,
the din of laughter
and its undertone of meanness
in the hot light,
and enter the water's
chlorine illusion of freshness,

and the young lifeguard hovers over us
in his umbrellad chair
all certitude and tight bellied,

the children running wild
along the concrete playing
with broken and discarded toys
as if they are a miracle
they are entitled to.


Laura McCullough is author of The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins for the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series, and published by University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Her other books of poems include Jersey Mercy, (Black Lawrence Press), Rigger Death & Hoist Another (BLP), Panic, winner of the Kinereth Genseler Award, (Alice James Books), Speech Acts (BLP), What Men Want (XOXOX Press), and The Dancing Bear (Open Book Press). She conceived of and curated two anthologies of essays on poetry, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, (University of Georgia Press), and The Room and the World: Essays on the Poet Stephen Dunn, (University of Syracuse Press). She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in NJ and is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-residency MFA, and has taught for Ramapo College and Stockton University. She teaches for the Stockton University Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway.