Once I heard a story of a woman

who carried snails under her breasts,

smuggling them to the Pure Land,

as if there were such a place,

as if any place were not.  It was not the year

of the Great Flu—1918—an epidemic

my mother had been was curious about,

before she died, not quite a century late,

her lungs also drowned.


I am drinking gin alone by a window

splashed with mud. Its transmuted berries

in my throat, belly, bloodstream

spread like the strings of the super-cluster—

Laniakea, Hawaiian for ‘immense heaven.’

Some galaxies, the scientists say, flow

toward the mystery ‘super attractor,’

while in another space, a juniper bush

is giving itself up to become a part of me now.


I have heard that snails heave their hushed bodies

up the Buddha, becoming a cap of protection,

for they know they can do so little alone.


I’m glad my mother is not alive

to hear a man insist on a wall around America.

One great war was ending when that flu ignited,

killing more then the war had. It was a year

of peace & death no one expected.

Another great war already fermenting.


Through the splattered window, I see

only the silhouettes of birds: blue jays,

swallows. That half the people want

a wall saddens me. Our immense heaven,


the scientists say, sidles up against another:

two minds or foreheads resting

touching, yet impenetrable, so much

bone and blood keeping us apart.


Laura McCullough’s The Wild Night Dress, selected by Billy Collins in the Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series, was published by University of Arkansas Press, 2017. Her other books of poems include Jersey Mercy, Black Lawrence Press, Rigger Death & Hoist Another (BLP), Panic (winner of the Kinereth Genseler Award, Alice James Books), Speech Acts (BLP), and What Men Want (XOXOX Press). She curated two anthologies of essays on poetry, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race, University of Georgia press and The Room and the World: Essays on the Poet Stephen Dunn, University of Syracuse press. Her prose and poetry have appeared widely in places such as Michigan Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Guernica, Pank, Gulf Coast, The Writer's Chronicle, Best American Poetry, and others.