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John McCullough


The common term for the winged reptiles properly called pterosaurs 

The fossil behind the glass is lying.
          This twisted backbone makes the creature
bisect herself as though devouring
          her own finger. And the flung-down
puppet effect is wrong, the suggestion
          that this jagged roof of wings

was always inadequate shelter,
          that there was no hour when she saw
volcanoes snuffed under her umbrella,
          the heights collapsing for this crestless head
that needled sky but understood it
          also as appendage, its clean blue skin-flap

just another extension of herself, the same
          as she was one of its best thoughts.
Likewise, the connotations stamped
          last week across the features of the teenager
who’s laid his hand against the case
          are far from honest. The swelling

beneath his left eye―a traffic light
          that shifts from plum to mustard, pink―
says no more about him than the concealer
          swiped across it, massaged in. The split lip
that crusted will soon drop its pretence
          just as the five days he spent ossifying

in his box room in the dark will undress down
          to one memory of rewatching Finding Nemo,
a sword of shine between his drapes.
          The panic he kept feeling at the prospect
of expeditions beyond his doorstep is sizzling
          irretrievably in the crater of this trip,

lifts away like steam. If you believed
          you caught him gnawing himself,
he was probably taking off excess balm.
          Under his baseball cap’s peak, what was fragile
before the bruises, what would never fit
          and here's a thump or three to demonstrate,

rises to meet the world again, a colour
          as necessary and true as the orange-red
of magma, as the cream of undried bones,
         as the wind-blown blue of the cornflowers
beside his neighbour’s gate, their small wings
         pitching and climbing, over and over.



Are the Circles Clearer on the Red or the Green?

Dear John. Firstly I would like to say sorry for addressing
you as Japan in my previous email. My various islands

          accept your apology graciously. It’s understandable.
          I am an archipelago that’s never sure where I am.

There is always another interview with fifty questions
I can’t answer like Why do you want to work here?

          How can I help you today? Do you like the taste
          of watermelon? I’m pure weather. My too-much heart

is a parliament of vapour, fried by its own lightning.
I keep coming to, halfway across the Pacific.

           In department stores, I catch the laser gaze
          of the security guard and believe I am a thief,

unresolved as to whether to half-inch a plain tie
or a striped, or perhaps the cocked trilby of the man

          who stares at himself in the badly lit mirror, raising
          one hand to the shadow landscape of his face.



The Floating Head

Freed from my shoulders, I drifted
          through the gaping window,
                    my thin moustache brooming the air.

I was promising as a shut peony.
          I’d spent so many hours already levitating
                    above my body, uncertainly belonging, 

it was a relief to turn out to be
          a new species away from the riotous pits, 
                    those granite slabs of feet, the carping

of a restless cock. I marauded
          through droplets of mist like brother
                    full stops loosed from sentences.

I hung in the sky, timeless
          as though I were on a stamp, enjoyed
                    regal delusions: a heartless overseer

gauging my state, obstacles
          to revolution. (Off with his. Oh.)
                    Heartless, but then ever more gutless.

Oddly exposed without my hands,               
          I perched beside starlings politely
                    on lichened roofs. I gravitated

to cabbage fields, their immaculate rows,
          alighted between fine fellow heads
                    to nap, before wandering like a planet

back to where I began. I orbited
          the little boat of flesh I’d left
                    capsized and naked among crumbs

on the kitchen lino when I could carry
          no more anchors, digest no more
                    incursions, no more of my latest

graceless response, the oozy flailing
          and mutinous pulse of a machine
                    so prone to falling, so primed

for defeat and a kiss from the shiny tip
          of the world’s meat hook . . .  I stopped
                    flying and nestled like a cricket ball

into one palm, felt on my cheek
          the clumsy brush of fingers. I tasted
                    dried sweat in their creases and lay there

for a few seconds, knowing it was over,
          that I had no choice but to put myself back―
                    return to my sad attachment and try again

to understand the weight of being bodied,
          all the swollen and tender exchanges
                    that ground me here, among the living.


Copyright © John McCullough, 2018