Laura McCullough holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Goddard
College. She has been a New Jersey State Arts Council Fellow, won a
Geraldine R. Dodge Scholarship to attend the Fine Arts Work Center in
Provincetown, and was the 2005 Prairie Schooner Merit Scholar in Poetry
at the Nebraska Summer Writers Workshop. She attended the 2005 Bread
Loaf writers conference as a contributor. Her first collection of poems,
The Dancing Bear, was published in late 2005 by Open Book Press with
blurbs by Stephen Dunn, Li-Young Lee, and BJ Ward. She gave a paper,
"In Defence of Shelley: the New Science of Mirror Neurons and its
Implications for a Theory of Poetics" at The Mid American’s 2005 Winter
Wheat Writing Festival in Bowling Green. She teaches at Brookdale
Community College in NJ where she chairs the Visiting Writers Series.
I Thought I Knew Something About Men
until I had a daughter who taught me
I know nothing about women.
Or about men either: to look at her,
my eyes become a man's eyes, and
I want to possess the fine line of her foot
encrusted with sugar. I am so hungry.
Her eyes make me know something
about pearl farmers -- why they dive,
how they learn to hold their breath
because so many lives depend on it.
Her hands are small butterflies
looking for a net; they come to sleep
inside my own. When she tilts
back her head, I can see the glazed
mother-of-pearl throat and lean close
to breathe the sweet ocean inside.
When I laugh, she laughs, her pearl
tongue testing pleasure. When I
put a finger to my bottom lip
smoothing color across it, she
touches her mouth.
I thought I knew something of men
until I saw them look at her and break
into small boys all over the floor --
their delight rolling through them
like water taking air. When I look
at her, I see I've never looked at myself.
Under His Cheekbones
Today, they gave a woman a new face,
the skin peeled from an anonymous man
who left his body behind after something
happened that changing everything.
Those who loved him, miss him. Those
who knew the lines of his face, touch
their own in hopes of recreating him.
The woman who has his face, no doubt,
will be told not to touch this new skin --
the risk of infection too large -- but
under there, under this mask, she will
be opening and closing her eyes; she
will be breathing through her nostrils;
her tongue will be alive inside her
mouth like a small pigeon lost in cave.
She will put a finger to her lips
which will part: her teeth will pull
small strips from the edges of her
fingernails, this flesh all she is allowed.
I'm told the woman was quite beautiful
and a real charmer; I might have wanted
to bite her face, too. Haven't you ever
looked at the thin edge of another's cheek
and wondered what it would feel like
under your tongue? Or eyed the fat meat
of a hand and wanted to test your teeth
across the taut skin? Sometimes, I press
against my lover's diaphragm breathing
with him, my teeth against the flesh. It
is all I can do to resist drawing blood.
Monk In The Airport With The Pink Skull Cap
Let's be accurate: it was fuchsia and satin
and shined like some gorgeous bald head
or a halo, if you’re so inclined, oddly festive
given the robe was tattered brown sack-clothe.
It was moth eaten, with tiny holes as if a pack
of miniature devils had rent him with their claws.
On his neck, an ornate, dull cross. His waist
was cinched with a length of twine, swinging
ends frayed into long strips. On his feet: brown
crocodile leather? No, that must be a figment
of my doubting self. The cap was real; in fact,
nothing else in the airport that day came close
to the color on his head. Imagine my surprise
when he sat in front of me on the plane. I sat
as erect as I could to keep the tiny crescent
rising above me in sight as long as I could.
I wanted to lay my hand on it, palm cupping
the smooth surface like I might a baby's face:
beauty, I would say, give it up, know it's worth
the price. And his face? What wouldn't I
have given to have seen him smile? In truth,
not much, but a small sacrifice is sometimes
all that's necessary, and the gods of excess
are sure to show their multifarious colors.
Something Small And Bright
Ghosts have taken over my face: they rise like theater
sets under my cheekbones, and suddenly I am looking
out of my eyes through theirs, feel my lips changing
shape, gestures in muscle that are not mine. When this
happens, I know I am not alone; there are a lot of people
in here. Some aren't surprising: my mother, for example,
also my friend Stephen. The first time I laughed through
his face, I knew something about his malleable brow I
hadn't known before, and felt the way the small muscles
surrounding the mouth have always surrendered to mirth,
giving way to humor without letting things get out of hand.
For a long time, I knew all of the faces that might come up,
but not so any more. It could be anyone, maybe one of you.
And the word ghost was a lie: this is not about dead people,
not about grief, but if I told you what it was about, I would
still be lying. Go ahead and put your hands to your face -–
or don't -– who am I to tell you what to do? I put my hands
to my face, cupping the bones beneath the skin. My palms
begin to warm, and then it happens: I feel the small kisses,
tender at first, and then insistent, then the noise like a flock
of startled birds leaving a tree. Inside that noise, I can begin
to dance across the stage I hadn't known was under my feet
until the rising voices burning against my cheeks force me
to open my mouth. Don't be afraid: what bursts forth will
only burn away what I have been trying to gnaw off; inside
this peeling lacquered mask see something small and bright.
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