you are in the diode archives winter 2011




My village wasn’t slashed and burned today,
            and since I don’t live in a village,
            all I had was guilt
            which seems to wash over the coast of Jersey
            now and then like a red algae swarm
            or the predicted high tides
            said to imperil our future.                       I live on a cul-de-sac

            which seems like a French word for a circle
            of homes, but there is no such word in French.

They have a coast, too, and I’m sure epidemics
            of guilt, but today, there’s only the one I have
            that these pills won’t assuage.               Some village
            somewhere, that’s what the news says,
            and next door, I hear screaming.            The neighbor’s
            son is home from Iraq,
            his teen girlfriend is pregnant,
            and the mother in-law has Alzheimer’s.

None of this was on the news,
            and my children are playing quietly, for once, with clay.
One is making pizza; the other a princess crown.

I stand by the window watching the weather
            creep in from across the bay.               Some foreign
            smell is in it;
            something I don’t care to know about;
            something I wouldn’t dare to claim.



The man in the car next to me was shaving,
               and I wanted to yell
               post-avant this, not at him, but at the camera
               posted just over the traffic light
               we were both sitting below.
We know we’re being watched, but do our best
               to live as if we’re not, but here,
               on a bright autumn morning
               I forgave him for his grooming,
               applauded his time saving measures.

Maybe he’d spent the night with a new lover
               (I liked this idea) or helped his kid
               finish the science project (my sympathy grew) 
               or maybe he does this every day,
               preferring all the sleep he can get
               to a few dead minutes staring in a mirror
               with a sharp blade.
Who couldn’t love a man like that?

He was looking at himself in the rearview,
               his neck exposed for me, voyeur
               in the next lane, the eye in the sky
               witness to what was in my face,
               how I hoped to hold on to whatever
               this was for the rest of the day,
               pay a little of it out,
               keep most of it for myself.


Bob at the Corner Table in the Lincroft Inn

Champagne for me, beer for him,
            and we talked carpentry, fine joinery, molding.
Why children cry. Why we can’t.
Later it was martinis and politics,
            the oil spill in Louisiana,
                        the car bomb in NYC;
                                    nothing about cancer
                                                or other betrayals.
Once in a Chinese restaurant, waiting for my dumplings,
            I noticed the wallpaper was joined
            at all the seams with staples.
From the chair molding til the ceiling, a thousand staples,
            and not just next to my table, but, as I looked around,
            I could see the glint where each panel met,
            the tall line of staples every few feet
            Who thought of that?
And who had held a stapler open and flat to the wall,
            moving it a millimeter at a time,
            slamming the palm of a hand
            against it to force the small metal
            into the wall board?
            Had gone around the room with a ladder,
            the time, the patience, their fat red hand
            when they were done, and why?

I thought of Bob, 
            of crawling around inside his poems
            with a tool belt finding solutions to problems
            or problems for solutions,
            and then my dumplings came.

They were hot.
            I slipped them whole
                        into my mouth
                                    one at a time.
I ate them all.                                      I asked for more.

This was not fine dining,         not even the best dumplings I’ve ever had
            but suddenly,               I was crying.
            (I don’t expect you to believe this.)     (I don’t care.)
            (I do;   I really do.       I really, really do.)
            Will you forgive me?


Progenitors of the New Whale

“ . . . to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.”  Melville, Moby Dick

Last night at the gym,
               I took Bob into the sauna with me,
               dragging him not kicking or screaming,
               but smoldering into the heat
               where I couldn’t break a sweat.

I was paralyzed and so was he,
               peering out the glass door
               as if someone would show
               up any moment.                     I was reading Moby Dick
               and Bob was reading the Bible backwards  —
               oh, you thought I was reading Bob,
               and the Melville comment threw you off,
               but what is literal?                 What is figurative?

Bob was in the interstices,
               between the molecules collected
               on my skin from the exertion
               of exercising my mind,            and now, I watched
               him paging through the Bible,
               looking for the lost narratives
               under the meta-narrative,
               the truth not in the word, but in the world,
               and I turned Moby Dick upside down,

and Bob said, cool, and laughed.           When we tried to leave,
               the door was stuck,
               and I started to panic. Bob said, be cool,
               and now it wasn’t so funny, and he beckoned
               below the benches to a man I hadn’t known
               was there, and out crawled Rilke
               who knelt
               and let Bob climb on his shoulders.      He peeled
               back the cedar lining the ceiling,
               pushing up the tiles,
               and that’s when I really started            to sweat,
               a cold sweat that loosened my limbs
               and the shuttering of my heart
               and when I left the gym,
               I left alone and unafraid.


The Dog Is Lying On the Floor as I Write This

I hope you like dogs.
            The dog will be a recurrent actor in this story.
                        The story of I in relation.
                                    One of those relations is the dog.

I am not a dog person.
            Some people are dog people. They proclaim
                        this as if it indicates the club they belong to.
                        It is almost a racial or religious declaration:
                                    oh, yeah, I’m a dog person.
                        No yellow star. No dark skin, but they are different.

I am not a dog person.
            I have a cat, too, but I am not a cat person, either,
                        and I resist the pressure to choose
                                    or to explain myself.

My dog is named Flannery. You know why
            and you will either like me for that or snicker.
                        I don’t care. She lays at my feet when I write,
                                    not at yours.
                                                You can go fuck yourself
                                                            if you don’t like my dog’s name.

My dog is MY dog.
            She is not the family dog,
                        although she is the family’s dog.
Whether I am a good dog owner or bad,
            Flannery has bonded with me.                         And I her.
I don’t mind her vomit
            as much I have minded other dogs’ vomit.
                        Or feces. I pick up her warm bowel movements in a bag.
I am not alone in this.
It does not mark me as a good person—
            nor as a dog person—many people do this.
                        It may even be the law in some places. 

I do sympathize with her brown eyes
            that seem badly to want
                        to understand
                                    and surely wish to please.

And how she follows me around.                    How she is depressed
            when I am gone,
                        how she needs those dog bones
                                    and the chewing.         I empathize, even with that:
                        how many vodkas? Bags of potato chips?
                                    Other things it’s none of your business to know
                                                I have consumed, used, interfaced with
                                                            in the same desperate anxiousness?

Some people would save an animal before a human.
            I am not that kind of person.
                        I would eat an animal,
                        no problem, to save myself.
                        I would throw an animal
                        over a bridge to save my child.
                        I knew a girl once
                        who was given a box of kittens
                        by a nun at the convent
                        a few blocks from my house,
                        told to take it down to the creek
                        by the library and put some rocks in the box
                        and drop it off the bridge.

I don’t know who I would be
            if someone had ever asked me
                        to do something like that.
I don’t know what that girl actually did.
I did see a man cut the testicles off a young pig once.
            I was holding the pig.
                        He threw the testicles to the ground,
                                    said the barn cats would get them.
            We raised that pig, had it butchered, and ate it.          Bacon.

But dog? In “The Art of Living” by John Gardner
            a cook kills a dog and makes a sumptuous meal.
            It is an initiation story, a loss of innocence,
            a boy becomes a man. Not through sex,
            though there is a girl, but by seeing through time.

Dog time is my time.   It is child-time:            now.                Always now. 

Seeing the past and the future is how we suffer,
            the bones we gnaw on, endlessly.
            The smell of bacon always seducing us.
            And then the panic.


There Were Only Dandelions

And the boy.
And no one knew what the dog was chewing.
Everywhere, sound. Here: sirens. There: sirens.
And the crying

                        because her husband doesn’t love her anymore
                        and wants to go to medical school,
                        now, after so many years of lawyering;

                        because she woke up one day and said, I don’t think
                        I ever want to sleep with you again, meaning sex,
                        and then he learned it meant not even the sleeping,
                        the spooned, belly loose intimacy of Howler Monkey night;

                        because the dandelion blew into a million parachuting seeds.

Pre-dandelions floating everywhere, to every continent.
            There, too, the screaming, just like the sirens,
            and everywhere in between, each anniversary of the living.

“My boy is in college now,” one says, “but that day
            of the bombing, when they called, I stopped at the 7-11
            to buy bags to bring the body parts home in.
He was one of only four that survived.”

                        Whose baby, anonymous, in the trash heap?

                        Whose boys aiming, aiming, falling in love
                        with the fear they won’t ever outrun?

                        Whose child that one, without the arm, a knife in the other?

They’re not all white faces, and this poem is not a public poem.
This poem is not meant to entertain, like Jericho said, named
            after that city by that river in the hot place so many people
            have lived in, so many hostages been taken in, so many,
            so many—whose offices I can’t name or know—no, not
            entertain, but sing just the same, a polyphony of song
            birds in the morning, snow geese aflight, guns rocketing,
            rocketing, barrel out, sound through, the beating blood,
            bleating animals, beseeching all those river gods
            for some respite from this suffering.

                        Each a lawn weed having grown up in some crevice,
                        against the wall of each life, flowering heads all in all
                        and each in one, this explosion on the seed headed-planet,
                        fractal imagining, and this is my imagining, this declaimed I.

Though some of you—even though this is not a public poem—
            will say the I is dead; there is no self; no things but in ideas
            dead, yet no ideas in things either; and then the accumulation
            of linguistic artifacts heats up like a    like a    like a

                        Lava lamp
                        All Spencer’s Gift glow and thrift shore chic.

And you will not be warmed by it,
            but       who is this you? Because if there is no I,
            there can be no we, and I am not willing to surrender to that,

                        to no us-ness, to you not being one sole being on the other end
                        of this this-ness, but only a part of some conglomerate, corporate
                        entity called nothing we can comprehend. I am unwilling;
                        I am a dissenter.
                        I am.

Which renders the corporation something more than they,
            which is almost always paralytic, or amoral,
            certainly unsympathetic and unsympathizable,
            something approaching evil.

Just you.          And me.           Please.

First, I claim this I, that only has this
            language(s),     technology(s),              space,
                        time,    sex,      gender,             religion or lack thereof,
                                    sensibility,       sense,   a body,             a body in time,
                                                in sex, in faith and betrayal
                                                            and reason and reasoning:

out of this great unsynthesized manifold, all penetration and penetrating,

                        Like a seed head blown apart, all pollination and flowering
                        and dried and falling away and lifting and airborne and borne
                        away from each other to land and germinate and survive
                        in the meagerness of conditions, the little dying, the little survivals.

An image, Williams said;         an idea, said Stevens,
            ancestors we think of: lion’s teeth leaves, prickly
            and perseverance, no things but in ideas?
So much depends upon this small boy
            who doesn’t look any small boy you know;
He is my small boy—the I of this this-ness
            with small bones and wide dark eyes,
            hair as straight and black as spun obsidian.
So much depends upon a child like this one I love,
            sitting in calf high grass, so new-green, the edges
            blaze white, and the dandelions all sprung over night,
            one night in this boy’s newborn awareness,
            as new as any child’s, burying his face in the common
            and undervalued florets, eyes blazing with YELLOW!!
            Mind cracking—everywhere this cracking—a portal
            into a new way of being, the dancing around him,
            the buzz of new insects, the spray of misting winds;

it is all so amazing, this world of wonder.  


Laura McCullough has four books of poems including Panic, winner of a 2009 Kinereth Gensler Award (Alice James Books 2011), Speech Acts (Black Lawrence Press 2010), and What Men Want (XOXOX Press). Her chapbook Women and Other Hostages, winner of a Flip Kelly Award, was published in the Gob Pile Poetry Chapbook Series (Amsterdam Press). Her interviews, essays, and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Writer’s Chronicle, The American Poetry Review, New South, Pank, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Tusculum Review, Hanging Loose, Pebble Lake Review, Gulf Coast, Hotel Amerika, and other journals. She is the editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations and is editing an anthology of essays by contemporary writers on the poetry of Stephen Dunn.