One Small, Breathing Thing
by Laura McCullough


At the diner, there’s a man.

The waitress asks how Maggie is.

He plays with the cutlery, adjusts

His napkin until it’s perfect.

She’s in hospice, he says, and needs

An egg and bacon on a sesame

Bagel, please. He wants to know

If there’s a newspaper laying

Around he can read? There isn’t.

Outside, the wind has picked up some trash.

Leaving my glasses on the table,

I go next door to Mike’s Market to buy

A paper for the guy, a small gesture

In a brown bag that won’t change much.

When I get back, he’s reading one

The waitress has fished from the trash.

It’s good enough, I’m sure

But it stops me where I stand.

I think about going back outside

To toss my newspaper into the wind

Like setting a stunned bird free

After holding it for a while

cupped in your dark hands.

There’s always a moment

When you want to keep it,

But letting go is easy when it’s one

Small, breathing thing that blames

You for nothing. The man is done

With his egg, the table a carnage

Of grace. He knows he’s not responsible.


Laura McCullough is on the writing faculty at Brookdale Community College where she is also the Chair of the Visiting Writers and Lecturer Series. She won a New Jersey State Arts Council Fellowship in 1995 and her work has appeared in The Lucid Stone, Poetry Motel, The Witness, and other small presses. New poetry and essays are forthcoming this winter/spring in the on-line publications Slant and In Posse.


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