All Accounts and Mixture: Poetry by Max McDonough



The derelict box trap in the brackish creek

behind his grandparents’ campground RV,

padded with slime-reeds and a thick dark

stinking mud, was fun to


poke with a stick

from the footbridge above. Having been kicked

from home for the weekend, and don’t

come back, why—


he could hardly recall now that the trap’s cull ring

had released a chewed up

croaker into free-float

procession on the water’s leafed surface. So he kept


prodding, teased out a small green crab,

half-rotted, nipped at

by whatever else in there

had been living until it starved too, bait


for the next, kept going like that, more food

for the crab hatchlings

swarming the cage somehow this early

in spring, a milk-plume of teeth, feasting, tiny


enough he’d mistaken them

for water bugs until just then, and thought: brushed chitin

where the pincers will be,

eventually. He put down


his stick. Little aliens, lovesick—

            cast off, stricken atavistic

with growing—their charged tender

larval hearts molting.



Listen, Love


I never asked for yard work or its sadnesses,

August days filling green plastic barrels to the brim


with weed stalks, roots, unlucky worms. Weekends,

I coiled bare fingers around the furred blades stubborn


to survive. I had my stubbornness, too. My skin thinly

peeling, hours and hours I filled the barrels anyway, dragged them


wheel-less and scraping on the sidewalk, because my father told me to,

half a mile through powerlines scrub to the dump site.


My mother slept all day or shopped endlessly online

for dolls. At night, the foyer’s tall curio glowed, glass shelves


stuffed with her curated faces. Sometimes she’d sit in front,

stare up at them like limbed stars.


Each day returned to me unharmed. Each day

some morning thing came, beating its wings. My father who stayed


long on the riding mower for peace, I still hear him calling me

away from that house, to the backyard or needy lawn, his voice


straining, half-muffled by sliding door glass or an open screen.

Even now everything in me is lifting to follow it.


Male Pattern


Early fade, it has come to this, in the spring

of my twenty-second year, scrounging

through the insufficient sink light,

scrounging in the fresh, unwanted space

for an explanation

among the fallen stalks,

the mutinous

loosening, then gone. Outside, the night

magnolias have bloomed late

but white beneath starlight, & the dark

green leathery leaves are unerringly

dark, thick

as pauldrons, hexing

silver pebbles from their polish

& flinging them at the window, soundless,

so turning from the mirror, from my own

reversed face:

the hallucination of moths,

electric & mute, in the night somehow

still darkening.




Down, in the under-threading

of nucleotides, twisting

down from my mother’s father,


down in his pattern that is also

my pattern, there

he is, still

living, no hair, a box of cigars

tucked under his arm as he slips


out the garage, into the oil-

black air not yet

ruptured by police sirens, officers


knocking, pushing

open the unlocked door—

his wife in the kitchen only


just before, releases

her telephone cord

from around my mother’s neck.




Call once & hang up, then call again—he told

his mistresses. But my mother kept

receipts from his work pants

stored in a shoebox beneath her bed…


When she unfolded them crinkling

apart like the wings of dead insects

for her mother to see, proof—

& the disbelieving room


turned on its side, angry, then blue

light in the window glass—


does violence live in the genes?


Their story is telling itself

in the dormant voice

of a seed,


muffled behind husk, there, between

my ears,


my ears

ringing and ringing.



The years between

constrict. At dinner, my mother, testifying.

She’s the casual refugee, history-


keeper runaway

now laundry-queen, changing

loads between coating batches of raw chicken


with Shake ’N Bake, sipping

always on a glass of wine, swirling the ice.

At night, her erratic machines


sputter on fabric softener

satiny as moon, toxic soups of bleach, detergent,

routine, TV. She sets the glass


down again,

the hot iron fuming, her face lit

blue with dramatic crime movies, actors


she recognizes from other shows, other roles, faces

back-lit by a cathode,

shifting, troubled, familiar as her own.




In the half-image of the bathroom window,

my hair was white

dandelion fluff.


At the tip of each feathery strand,

the bulbous face

of a family member—some I didn’t

know I had remembered

until then, & they were all arguing

with each other, in the unintelligible language

of anger—snarling, nipping

with smokers’ teeth, threatening over

& over to sink the first

crumbling bite.


& beyond that reflected me,

the dark yard

of the anxiety I seemed to stand in—all of it—

erupted in gust,


the magnolia, the grass, the loose dirt

weighing the grass down to root, the little

dumb moths

the color of wishfulness, tumbling—


& one by one—mother, grandfather—then

in clumps, the seed stalks

of my family,  

my hair—whipped off

spiraling with diminishing screams away,


away from my newly bald & shining scalp.



Max McDonough grew up outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey, but escaped to Virginia at the age of sixteen. When night expeditions to the local Walmart parking lot there became too perilous an ordeal, he matriculated to the University of Virginia, where he dodged a pre-medical education and pursued a degree in English instead. He is an MFA candidate at Vanderbilt University, and has work appearing or forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Columbia Poetry Review, RHINO, and others.