McLaughlin – Samples



I knew a death that no one shared.  Sommersaulting

twelve years old, in a neighbor’s pool

when my friend had gone inside

to answer a phone since his parents were at work.

I wanted to set a record–twelve forward and backward

sommersaults in a row–without coming up for air.


I could cheat distance under water–fifty meters

without a breath.  No thought of death alone in a ball,

speed all that was important, arms

moving in circles, like paddles,

or frogging along the tiled bottom

from one end to the other

and back.


But at my friend, Mark’s house

I passed out.  And found

the bottom of the pool on my side.  The surface

so close but so far away.  This was

the death I shared with myself.  The cement

wasn’t scratchy, but soft.  Geometry was there

for a moment of color, a geometry of absence

I was never meant to use.

I shared a death with myself, shooting to the surface,

it would have been too embarrassing to have been

found dead.  I shared a death with myself, my so-called friend

still on the phone.


Behind the sliding glass door

two uncapped cokes on a table.  The t.v. was on.

He was still on the phone.


I cried quickly and went home.  The other world

the one

at the bottom of the pool

had been so much softer.


–Michael McLaughlin



Summer Eve South of Stockton


One hundred well-behaved right lane trucks.

Fast Lane I-5.  80 mile per hour

twilight toasting the minds of bugs.

Phone pole hawk.  Beak tucked.

Crop duster Christmas time green.  Envying

the guy whose first kiss must

have just taken hold in rich rye

of such an instant just passed.


Ah, the heat of it!  We’re no more than bread!


Back seat my son, you’d think

Asleep on

the upholstery of heaven.


For an instant so righteous

I’m entrusted with so much.


Night’s just a nest

My job’s just to drive

For an instant so righteous.


–Michael McLaughlin



Canto XI from The Book of Divorce


It’s pay a bill make five phone calls have

a thought die

Pay a bill have five phone thoughts make

a call die

Make a call have five phone bills drive to

store die

Drive to die make a store house have a phone

child sigh

Sigh a phone child eat a bill make a

springtime cry

Cry a paycheck read a bill eat some

crying pay

Make a color color a call smile a smile


Phone a smile fake a paycheck color

son’s phone bath bathe

Bash the laundry phone a bed sheet wish a phone girl


Bill a number bind the newsprint smell

some flowers cry

Gas the car up bill the cat food vacuum two

flea thoughts eat

Call the sunset bill a moonrise pace the



Michael McLaughlin