Laura McCullough

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

to hold

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