Everyone seemed stuck or silenced that summer,                nobody’s
T-shirt with the right slogan, the news shifting                       so fast, you
couldn’t keep up with the latest outrage, & one person’s outrage

was another’s fact, & did you know                                       any couples
who weren’t fighting or divorcing, or confused                      over the kids,
the economy, the government? Vulnerable was a word I heard

in the grocery store as well as on the beach.                        Wild was
a word I heard used as a positive & a negative.                    I agreed
with everyone. When Bernard said there is no such thing

as morality out of context, I had to forgive him                      because
I knew he’d be the last to leave the party,                              would cry
in my driveway, was sorry for all the pain he’d caused

people he loved, didn’t know how it                                       had happened,
but that it wasn’t his fault; he was hostage                            to the gender
constructs of his time. Many of us wished for a way to talk

about these things. Most everyone had some                       private grief;
me, too couldn’t sustain its slogan power                              because everyone
had a version if you were willing to listen. A lot of men

got taken down. A lot of women felt ashamed                        for liking men.
Did any of us know what was happening?                             Whenever possible
I told people they were beautiful—in their bodies, their cages

of mind, under their habits of behavior—even in the               licks of fear
behind their corneas, something fluttering, a                          grace, maybe mercy,
morally unambiguous. Bernard, I said, I love you out of context,

& if I say now that I almost meant it,                                       meaning I want
to be just a bit ironic, know instead that I am lying:                 I did mean it.
I really did. Even if someone else might think that’s wrong

of me. Some days I think all I am capable of is                      putting my hand
on someone’s chest or shoulder, feeling the ridge of             rib bone or clavicle
against my palm, steadying myself there & giving a fee

to the ferryman’s heart inside, wondering if we all                 are trying
to escape from the shore of ourselves to                               whatever waits
on the other side, feeling we have to help each other,

but knowing nothing, not even the forces                               to which I
was pledged as hostage before I was born                            & still act out
like the dumb beautiful beast I am occasionally thrilled to be.

Laura McCullough‘s most recent collection of poetry is THE WILD NIGHT DRESS, selected by Billy Collins in the University of Arkansas Press Miller Williams Poetry Prize. Her other books are with Alice James Books and Black Lawrence Press, and she’s edited 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, Syracuse University Press.