Light and Sound Are Not
by Laura McCullough

What is the opposite of decapitation,
a clean-through, laser-like removal of a girl’s feet
in mid-air on a ride at the Sea Bright Pier?

They removed her to the hospital,
the ride was closed,
the others given cards for lawyers
and tortured by the arriving media,
nearly begged to leave by the pier owners
who spoke to them each by phone, briefly,
as their lawyers had cautioned them:

show sympathy, admit nothing.
The sun went down into a night like winter
in Antarctica instead of the Jersey shore,
and it was as if the cold moon replaced the sun
and took with it any record of its existence.

by Laura McCullough

The Lifeguard Captain didn’t know there was a body
until a few hours later when the sun came up.
His four wheeler’s tracks leading to the rise
behind which she lay and then away.
He hadn’t felt a thing, but she was dead,
her chest crushed,
the air flattened out of her,
lungs punctured,
her death a kind of drowning.

He was a smart guy,
flattered himself that he liked irony,
the collision of incongruous things,
even what approached paradox,
and sometimes,
he’d let the young girls hang around his stand,
and impress them with his knowledge
of philosophy and music
and tell them what to download to their iPods.

Often they would come again the next day
and say how beautiful this or that was,
and their eyes would be almost moist,
but he never took advantage of that,
preferring women to girls,
someone who might even surprise him.

This he couldn’t absorb.
How the mayor looked at him.
The reporters.
His suspension, pending resolution.
By then, there was no moon,
just the wide open sky, empty and suspicious
as he walked the beach
hands deep in the pockets of his jacket,
head tucked low
against the slicing winds
and every invisible thing a night might contain.

by Laura McCullough

She sat in the infertility clinic waiting room
with her adolescent son,
too young to leave at home alone,
and this procedure required
she be there before school started,
and her husband had left the night before
on business.  They’d driven in the dark here,
over an hour, the boy sleeping in the back,
his school backpack pillowed under his head.

Now he paged through
Sports Illustrated,
National Geographic, and Bon Appétit.
She looked out the window at the darkening morning.

A storm was coming, a heat brewing in the air
that didn’t feel right.

Everyone in the room was staring,
the nurses buzzing the way only women can,
quiet, intense, not giving anything away.

Then the lights went out.

Oh God, someone yelled from the bathroom
or was it from some poor woman
on a table having a procedure?
Emergency lights came on, not bright, but enough.

She put her arm around her son,
felt her belly full beneath her belt.  
The clock over the window blinked.
The Weather Channel says there’s a tornado watch,
said a nurse loudly.  No one in the room moved
unless it was to put down a magazine and pick up another.

Here? whispered the woman two seats away.  I guess anything is possible.

The women smiled at each other.
That’s exactly right, she said,
and her son’s arm beneath her hand
seemed suddenly smaller and less muscled then it had before.


This selection of poems is from the manuscript of
Laura McCullough’s
fourth book,
Panic.  Her third, Speech Acts, is forthcoming in 2010
from Black Lawrence Press.

On “Light and Sound Are Not Opposites,” “The Predictable Suspicious
Tide,” and “Waiting to See What the Weather Will Do”:
These poems are from a book-length series that in the aggregate
are one poem that exfoliates my sense of what life was like in the
years following 9/11 on the shore of New Jersey.  The poems are
all based in beach towns or along the shore from Sandy Hook, Red
Bank, and Sea Bright through Asbury Park, Ocean Grove, and
down to Ocean City, Wildwood, and Cape May.  I think of these
poems as residing in the tidal wash, if you will, between prose and
poetry, much like an estuary is between salt and fresh water.  In
trying to explore the emotional tenor of the time, which for me
was a kind of panic or frenzy, I began these poems with an
imagined drowning of small boy in a public pool and the young
lifeguard who was unable to save him.  The poems began to ripple
out from that one poem like a dropped rock in water, and other
characters, some close to the initial fictive incident, some very far
from it or unconnected totally, began to arrive in the subsequent
poems and accrue to a story about living with the certainty that
something bad will happen to someone, sometime, and the fact
that we all must go on anyway.  About the latter, though there is
not a single first-person poem in
Panic, this manuscript, my fourth,
is the most emotionally autobiographical one I have written.

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 4, Number 2
(Fall 2009)

Copyright © 2009
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.
The Predictable Suspicious Tide
Waiting to See
What the Weather Will Do