John McCullough

All the Way to Poundland and Back

At the café, small milk jugs on the shelf point
in different directions, like ducks on a pond.
A chainsaw taken to the elm outside is sobbing.
It’s too much for the young plumber who pulls 
the zip up on his hoodie so it meets his nostrils.
There was a tornado in his bathroom last night.
He has no memory of it but this morning
his toothbrush, scissors, razor lay scattered 
on tiles. A voice on the street is unforgiving.
Don’t tell me about being fucking tired. I’ve walked
all the way to Poundland and back. They’d run out
of triceratops so I bought him a brachiosaur.

Time for luxury breathing, thinks the server 
on their break. That app with a slow, calm voice: 
Inhale for 1, 2, 3, 4 and hold . . . 
We reuse oxygen breathed by dinosaurs, they think,
the same molecules going round. 
They could do with a brachiosaur this week, 
a herbivore with a heart the size of a pick-up truck 
who’d lift them, legs dangling, to treetop height. 
And now exhale – 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . Good. 
They float again as one more human.

It’s OK, writes the beanie girl in her journal, to stay alive
because it’s March and I want to see the next season
of Doctor Who. Because the cold blue flames 
of my succulents would miss me 
and I want to play BlackPink tonight. 

On the verge, the triceratops hunter vapes, 
muscles loosening in her brow. A gust stirs 
thin branches, a lone crocus swaying.  
The season experiments with crumbs of colour,
seeing how far it can go.

John McCullough lives in Hove. His third book of poems, Reckless Paper Birds, was published with Penned in the Margins and won the 2020 Hawthornden Prize for Literature as well as being shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. John’s previous collections have been Books of the Year for publications including The Guardian and The Independent, and he also won the Polari First Book Prize. His poem ‘Flower of Sulphur’ was shortlisted for the 2021 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. His fourth collection, Panic Response, was published in March 2022 by Penned in the Margins. 

Flights, Issue Six, September 2022