Vox Populi

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Laura McCullough: Another Winter Sunday (with passive aggression) 

The sound cuts the house’s quiet,  

which hasn’t been calm in a long while. Nail  

clippers, the big kind, the snap not meant  

as the indictment it feels like. He’s trying not to  

call me to help him, but grooming himself 

with the door open, so I’ll be sure to hear it, so I  

will be sure to know he doesn’t want  

to burden you; you do so much already, but only  

makes me feel worse. This business  

of taking care of people is fraught. If he cuts himself  

or, god forbid, falls out of his chair,  

I’ll have new issue  like when we were in the ER  

last week for his imaginary bronchitis,  

his chest x-rays just fine, nothing wrong, except  

everything. He’s lonely, afraid, in my house because  

he had nowhere else to land, and all his systems failing,  

which isn’t fine, but now, when he sits  

alone while we work or clean or take care of the kids  

or go shopping or pay the bills or mow  

the lawn or do the laundry or go to work to make money  

to pay the bills, then he sits inside  

his own mind, alone inside  

the diminishing body, wanting 

any attention he can get: this week  

a fake cough, the week before, the urgency  

about a letter he needed me to find, or the special kind 

of socks he likes or the seven toilet seat risers  

we had to buy trying to get the right fit, or the fight  

he sparks with a family member, or whatever, every week  

a new thing to make him feel he is still alive  

in between the dialysis, and all the different ologists we visit— 

onco-, radio-, nephro-, uro-, cardio—or others,  

vascular surgeons, dentist, his regular GP—thirty years,  

he tells me, I’ve seen this guy thirty years,  

which is longer than any of his marriages, another relationship  

he is about to lose. I think about all of this,  

fuming in my own churlish angers and diminishments, how  

my life has been engulfed by him,  

and the shame, guilt as I listen to the click, clicking,  

the definitiveness of the sound as the jaws  

crash, the strength he still has in his hands to do this, hands  

that, I am sure, held me when I was a little girl,  

which I can’t remember right now, instead, the chronic angers  

of a family’s history boil under another  

quiet Sunday morning, this one with willful inaction on my part,  

of willful attention seeking behavior on his  

part, then a small cry from a once big man, as a cuticle is cut; 

see the small bloodshed, a red pearl forming. 

(c) 2023 Laura McCullough

Laura McCullough’s books include Women and Other Hostages (Black Lawrence 2021). A three time NJ State Arts Council Fellow, she is a full professor at Brookdale Community College.

8 comments on “Laura McCullough: Another Winter Sunday (with passive aggression) 

  1. Sean Sexton
    February 28, 2023

    I’m sorry but I have to depart from this poem, and have a greater need for the levity and grace of the aforementioned poem even in its acute strangeness.
    There is inevitability keenly indicated in both poems and perhaps they’re to the same end. Hayden’s words, this moment better fit my heart. I sympathize with the author of this poem
    and have lost both my parents, (2014 and 2016) nothing easy about any of this no matter the what and the when.


    • Vox Populi
      February 28, 2023

      Yes, I know what you mean, Sean. This poem is painful to read for those of us who have been through a similar experience.



  2. Andrea Hollander
    February 27, 2023

    I love this response to Robert Hayden’s famous “Those Winter Sundays.” McCullough’s poem stands on its own, of course, and her articulate description of the father’s decrepitude is intense and unforgettable. Important nod to Hayden at the close of McCullough’s poem in her use of his phrase “chronic angers.” McCullough honors his poem, as hers is not an imitation. She earns every word. Brava!


    • Vox Populi
      February 27, 2023

      Well-said, Andrea. I agree. The poem works on at least two levels: a description of the tedium, frustration, and yes, even a bit of joy in being a care-giver; as well as a tribute to Hayden’s great poem.



  3. Rose Mary Boehm
    February 27, 2023

    So ture, so painful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 27, 2023

      Yes, many of us have had the experience of caring for elderly family members. this poem captures it perfectly.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Leo
    February 27, 2023

    Poetry can be our only relief, at times. Thanks for this!
    Yes, caregiving can feel devastating at times but on occasion, if only so briefly, you can feel a tinge of joy when you get that special, silent smile that tells you, “Thanks, for all you do! I love you.” I cherish those moments.


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This entry was posted on February 27, 2023 by in Health and Nutrition, Poetry and tagged , , , , , .

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