Laura McCullough


What Tony Hoagland Means to Me,

or, Why I'd Rather Not Be John Malkovich

It’s winter; I’m reading What Narcissism Means
      to Me, and my son in the next room tells his friend,
           my mom’s house burned down when she was a kid.

For a moment, I’m wearing flip-flops and a colored robe,
      the house burning around me lighting up my imagination
           like a flashlight borrowed from Tony, and I’m waving

across the years to my son and my son’s friend,
      the time between then and now about what it takes
           to finish reading “Narcissus Lullabye” and turn

the page. Tony Hoagland’s tongue is his best muscle;
      you just know he’s been taking his own advice, turning
           light switches on and off with it. In Malkovich no one

wants to be themselves, and in all of T’s poems, that’s all
      he is, the gospel of self, the season of being alive
           never waning. So there I am, forgiven for being

on that second floor, my robe the color of a New York sunset
      over New Jersey, and Tony and Malkovich are both below
           in the yard yelling, Jump! I’ll catch you, like I should trust

either of them, but I do, jump that is, and the house
      becomes ash sifting down over my son and his friend,
           like we’ve been caught in a snowstorm. My son says,

Ma, tell us the story, and I do, since the sins of the mother
      are only in what’s withheld and narcissism is learning
           to embrace what you know can’t ever be caught.

It’s winter; I’m telling a story, and the time it takes
      is the time from one blazing moment to the next
           the water to douse them as elusive as your image

in a pond, as vital as the book my son’s friend takes
      with him when he heads out into the sweet wreckage
           of winter singing a lullaby he didn’t know existed.


Giallo Antico
                  For C.J.

The word friend was once part of a verb meaning to love
and my friend taught me to cook and to never put food
on the table all at once. He knew how to seduce
the senses, the art of ancient yellow, how to coax
it from the ruins of any country: a dinner party,
a book reading, an ESPN vintage event.

Once, when I’d learned how to use Kazaa
and downloaded scores of songs, he came to dinner
and I asked him what his favorite song was.
The answer, Nessun Dorma, and I, knowing nothing
of opera, scoffed and went about my chopping
until, the song found, and playing, I cried
tears as if I was working with onions,
a sweetness so sneaky and unsettling
and redemptive I’d pay to be overtaken
like that again.

No one is sleeping; no one is sleeping.
How could one sleep? The hero
has answered three riddles and given one
himself to the woman who won’t be loved:
say his name and at dawn he dies.

I’ve betrayed my friend by not knowing enough
about keeping secrets, letting things lie
the law – La legge e questa – that friendship
is a precarious monument to love, whispers
that must be made over and over onto dying
lips redolent with the last meal they tasted,
the salt of the last tears cried, the master
of metaphor thrown on the chopping block,
what separates as beautiful as what was whole.