John McCullough reads from Reckless Paper Birds


Reckless Paper Birds, wow, when I saw that title, it immediately appealed to me, coming out of the ether as it did one day on the Internet. Even in a pandemic, we communicate. I got in touch with the poet John McCullough on Facebook and Twitter and said Hello. Then I ordered his book from Amazon. When it arrived, I liked the design, found it comfortable to hold, and the poems do fly even if they’re made of paper because on paper you can write, and that’s endless possibility. John McCullough reads three of the poems on the Vimeo below. Enjoy.



Around 1973, I wrote a minimalist poem

words are birds

eye is sky

And it’s true, words are birds that simply fly into our minds through ears and the eye’s vast sky. Like my young poem, Reckless Paper Birds is young, a fledgling on the edge of its nest just as it’s taking flight. There it goes! Beginning with the first poem in the book, I chose three whose language I love where the seeing and the listening are one.


The Zigzag Path

The day connives and you think you cannot live here,
in your body, alone and rushing forward all the time

like a silty river. All you wanted was to find a home
beside the souls of white roses and hurt no one

but the light keeps shifting. An invisible broom
keeps flicking you out from cover. You roll up

at each destination with a different face, as wrong
as the beech tree in Preston Park hung with trainers,

its museum of tongues. The day connives, but this dirt
is proof of trying. The chalk path you never longed for

zigzags through cowslips no one asked to throng.
In the park, a robin has built its nest inside a Reebok,

the shoe’s throat packed with moss and a crooked
whisper of grass that says I can, I can, I can.



There are hours when the walls
            of this avenue open. In the flat opposite,
two men in a king-sized bed are woken
            on each other’s shores by a third
who sets down a tray of coffee,
            spreads his arms like a prankish flying
squirrel, then glides between them.
            The undergrad above is deconstructing
brands of bubble bath, their genders.
            What can you do if you’re Titanium
and Marshmallow? They hold
            a bottle of each next to the ceiling
and Niagara themselves into the water.
            Elsewhere, a Roman empress tucks away
the handcuffs, cheery-byes her milkmaid
            who’d better gazelle it or the vegetarian
shoe shop will never swing wide its doors.
            This is the unforeseen road of my thirties,
where mauve armpit hair and sparklers
            are ordinary, where I have landed up
a gardener, a not-always-disgusting
            citizen; where an ice blue flash
of jay’s wing swoops through the morning
            as if this were someone else’s life.
An ice blue that is really bands
            of graduated blues. A swoop
that is a bird averse to leaving
            a conifer’s shelter, banking on gravity
and its body to merge into one arc
            while the image dives through my eye
then vanishes into unmapped streets.


Strange Stories and Outlandish Facts

In Tokyo, you said, some crows
build nests from coat hangers.
Are you aware, though, the scaffolding
crowded with danger signs
behind your Heathrow office
is a waterfall of exclamation marks?

You should have sauntered out
ten minutes back. I lurk
beside glass doors till my other self
looks airsick, then wobble
to the coffee bar across the road,
willing your text to land.

Fact, from the 1530s, meaning
thing made, thing done.
Like when you fix small wheels
to my foolishness so it turns
into a vehicle we drive about in.
You fill up my desire to race

to the museum shaped like a teapot,
and not bother with the church
that is a cup. Breathe in this direction,
please, and we can crackle
like those winding lines of cherry trees
in Yoshino’s springtime forest―

forks of pink lightning when viewed
from the sky. Fact, meaning evil deed.
The Aztecs flaunted necklaces
of popcorn and measured drunkenness
on a scale of rabbits and must
have been delightful on the days

they weren’t slicing people open.
I prefer to wear impatience
like a hula hoop in café queues,
slamming into other patrons.
I apologise too many times.
It’s a lesson in context: a man can strut

in glass armour but if he goes
to war he’ll end up as melody.
Every fact’s contingent, fleeting.
On this window, the Boeing 767
overhead appears in each raindrop
as though it’s laid planespawn

and is leaving its young behind.
I wouldn’t have things otherwise.
I need my blurry edges, a chance
to figure out while speaking
what I’m trying to say, which is simply
that I want your primate warmth

beside my neck, your slim fingers
against the bones and muscles
of my back―its scapulae,
trapezius and all the other parts
with Latin names there is no
earthly need for me to know.



Reckless Paper Birds is published by Penned in the Margins. You can check it out here:



John McCullough

Leave a Reply