Laura McCullough

Women & Other Female Identifications

My mother used to say, a beautiful woman makes men
feel handsome, but a truly beautiful woman makes other women
feel beautiful. It was a graceful & affirmative idea

to have implanted in me as a girl, though cis-het in its framing,
forgivable given the times though it still has power, & I tell
women all the time that they are beautiful including

a woman with vivacious gray curls & a bouncing gate I saw
in the Acme parking lot today. But that’s not why I’m thinking
of it. I’m feeling the memory of you in my throat,

the way you surrendered & shuddered, stunned
by the softness that came over you, though few would have
thought me the one in power if they’d been watching

through a curtain crack. My mother used to say, grace
is seeing in someone’s face the child they once were.
& after, your jaw loosened, & that look as you laid back

was like an angel’s or a child’s, & I knew you
were both grateful & ashamed,  & maybe a little afraid.
But you were so beautiful.  Like a boy. Or just like a little girl.

Heat & Shame

A married man. Bearded, but with a newspaper
flipped up against his face. A doctor, too.
TMI, he cries. We’re in bathing suits, his wife & I.

She’s perfect & small, fecund with her own griefs
& hard-won openness. Me, I’m in a two piece,
belly slack & tattooed from childbirth.

We’re talking about estrogen, blood & its lack.
Please, he whimpers. Without a word, we stand up
together & look down at him, suddenly cruel.

Our arms akimbo, nostrils flared like horses,
this is a pleasure we can’t or don’t wish to resist;
what’s between us burns & has the power to kill;

who would want to give this up or lose it?

Laura McCullough’s most recent collection of poetry, Women & Other Hostages, is forthcoming in spring 2021, from Black Lawrence Press. Her other books include The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Series, University of Arkansas Press, Jersey Mercy (BLP), Rigger Death & Hoist Another (BLP), Panic (winner of the Kinereth Gensler Award, Alice James Books), Speech Acts (BLP), What Men Want (XOXOX Press), & The Dancing Bear.

Her poems & prose have appeared in Best American Poetry (selected by Sherman Alexie), Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Harvard Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Guernica, Cimarron Review, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Pank, Hotel America, Prairie Schooner, & many other journals and magazines.

She has had scholarships or fellowships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, Sewanee Writers Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Arts, & has been a Dodge Poetry Festival poet, a Florida Writers Circuit poet, & a Decatur Book Festival poet.

Awarded three NJ State Arts Council Fellowships, two in poetry & one in prose, Laura is proud to be a Jersey shore writer.

Laura has an undergraduate degree from Stockton University and holds and MFA in Literature and Writing from Goddard College.