John McCullough

John McCullough

Dance of the Locust

Tonight began in another decade.
Too many tequila slammers.
Too many tears and blue neon animals.

Mel snorts a line of coke
beneath a mirror in the salon she owns,
offers the bag. Not for me, thanks.

It’s the anniversary of the Admiral Duncan
bomb and the Metro‘s crammed with stories:
the woman who stepped over someone,

complained she wanted a better view
of the dying. The explosion starting under
the floor, causing many shattered legs.

An article at the time described
those who fled in panic as swarming.
Mel slumps back, exhales. That’s better.

And the thoughts flock relentlessly
like gulls. The way Brighton looks to the rest
of England: hen nights, junkies, orgies―

London’s freak dump by the sea.
Faux-Regency houses, giant blooms
of damp. On TV, a crush of pink locusts

lies heaped on a beach, wings
smashed from crossing the ocean.
I hear my mouth-parts click.

Mel can’t cut hair herself
and her full-timer’s about to leave
so the salon’s closing, another disappearance

after half the saunas and bars.
The sea lavender along my cliffs
is burning. I say goodbye, slip out.

It’s almost my anniversary too―
ten years since I lost Andy.
What is it I’m meant to be doing now?

Then it smacks me by the pier: salt
rushes into my nostrils with the tang
of frying crêpes, bass from the last gay club

that’s not part of a hotel. Fuck it.
What’s more important than the immensity
of sky is the swarm beneath it.

If I look, I will discover myself
among a shifting cloud of figures
on the ground, damaged but still here,

still searching for havoc as I scurry
toward the throb and, behind me,
my battered wings unfold.

JOHN MCCULLOUGH won the Polari First Book Prize in 2012. His third collection of poems, Reckless Paper Birds, was published by Penned in the Margins in 2019, and is currently shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award.