Bodies that allow
When she began to fall
in the hospital bathroom
after faking sleep for hours
until she thought
she could drag herself out of bed
without waking me, I heard her moan.
It wasn’t of pain or fear,
but even as I flung myself upright
in the hinged recliner tossing my legs over
the hard plastic arm to bolt to her, I knew
what underlay that sound.
I opened the door,
and she began to slide against the wall.
Without knowing what to do, I did
what I knew to do: my arms shot out
into the spaces under hers, catching her in my elbows,
which wasn’t enough, and we sunk
to the floor, her full weight having let go,
and I pulled her to my chest and let my knees bend,
so she wouldn’t hit the wall, the toilet.
The nurse Bernice and I cleaned the smeared shit
off together after I carried my mother to bed
and laid her down gently as I could, which I know
wasn’t gentle because I am not very strong,
and I tried to squeeze the tears back, my face crumpling
as my mother whispered, Oh, I am so ashamed,
but she’d never seemed more
beautiful, flesh creamy and soft,
a body you would want
in the night, lovely and generous.
Laura McCullough is a poet and prose writer whose essays, memoirs, stories, and poetry have appeared widely in places such as in The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer's Chronicle, and others. Her recent books include Jersey Mercy (poems, forthcoming 2016, Black Lawrence Press), an edited anthology, A Sense of Regard: essays on poetry and race (University of Georgia Press, 2015), and Rigger Death & Hoist Another ( BLP, 2013). Her previous books include Panic (Alice James Books, 2011), Speech Acts (BLP, 2010), and What Men Want (XOXOX Press, 2009) and the anthology The Room and the World: essays on Stephen Dunn (University of Syracuse Press, 2014). Her poem, “There Were Only Dandelions” was selected by Sherman Alexi for Best American Poetry, 2015. She was selected as a writer for the 2014/15 Florida Writers Circuit tour and has read in the Dodge Poetry Festival, the Decatur Book Festival, and other events. She has had fellowships or scholarships from Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, the NJ State Arts Council among others. She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College in NJ and is on the faculty of the Sierra Nevada low-res MFA and has taught for Ramapo College and Stockton University. She is the founding editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations. Visit her at http://www.lauramccullough.org/