Laura McCullough


Laura McCullough’s most recent book of poems is Rigger Death & Hoist Another. Her other books are Panic, Speech Acts, and What Men Want. She is the editor of two anthologies: The Room & the World: Essays on the Poetry of Stephen Dunn, forthcoming from Syracuse University Press, and A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, forthcoming from University of Georgia Press. In 2014, Emerge Literary Publications will publish a series of three books, Ripple & Snap, micro-fiction/prose-poem story, Shutters*Voices*Wind, linked monologues, and The Smashing House, a short fiction chapbook. She has been awarded scholarships or fellowships from Sewanee Writers Conference, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, The Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, and others. Her essays, criticism, poems, creative non-fiction, and short fiction have appeared in The Georgia Review, New South, Guernica, The American Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, Pank, The Writer’s Chronicle, Gulf Coast, Pedestal, Painted Bride Quarterly, and others. She is the editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations and an editor at large for TranStudies Magazine.


Nautical Tattoo

He tells me a turtle once meant a sailor had passed
the equator; a dragon or swallow or map of China meant he flew
five thousand miles, and two
was double. A man in trouble might have a beating held off
by a praying Jesus on his back. If he’d been to Cape Horn, then stars
on his ear lobes; a nautical star,
five pointed and dark, meant to be a psychic light
that would guide the sailor home when lost. Some with angel wings.
A red one and a green one
on the chest was a warning, said, I am best, give way.

Who can wear a thing like this today, I ask, my bare arm against
the rest, his pen poised. Narrative
has given way, he says, but each of us is still the star
in the center of our own universe. My fingers clutch; the muscles
in my forearm tense; I’m posing
and know it. Once a student said I needed a tattoo
for the experience of pain. That’s a country we’ve all been to
I’d said, even then floundering.
What right had I earned to respond that way?
As if I could speak the same language as him, as if
I knew my own way home.

This poem is part of a new manuscript, Jersey Mercy, about the Jersey shore, the people who live there, the ways water is part of our lives no matter where we live.