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John McCullough - Tumbleweed

Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter

John McCullough

“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic.” – Spokesman for President Ramzan Kadyrov on Chechnya's concentration camps for gay men

They gather beside the house at midnight,
a crowd of spiky globes piling against windows,
blocking out the moon. Skeletons of Russian thistle,

their dry fingers scoring glass, scraping paint
from the sills. It's too much. I cannot stay inside
and listen. I tug the front door ajar and greet them

with a chainsaw?slice curled spines
then raze the fragments with a propane torch.
There is no other way to handle what does not exist.

It is the dead ones that travel, that disperse
the seed. March gales drive them west,
their bones bouncing over the Channel,

harassing the coast. They accumulate
along ditches and railway tracks though, lately,
I've started noticing them elsewhere:

beneath a park bench, wedged on top
of broken glass; knotted round electric fences.
I fall asleep, counting as they hurry over gates.

I dream I'm flying a plane and discover them,
huge as airships, spinning into my path.
They bump against the fuselage, wake me

so I drift to the window, their nails scratching
and scratching as if I'm meant to understand,
to look down while my fingers lengthen and twist,

while I bend forward and my spine
completes its arc so my cloud of thorns
can gently tangle, begin to roll.

John McCullough’s first collection of poems The Frost Fairs won the Polari First Book Prize in 2012 and was a Book of the Year for The Independent. His new collection Spacecraft was named one of The Guardian’s Best Books for Summer 2016, and was shortlisted for the Ledbury-Forte prize. He lives in Hove.

Well Versed is edited by Jody Porter ([email protected])
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