Molly McCully

Molly McCully Brown
Poet and Essayist
Sweet Briar, VA
2018 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by Helen Zell.

Molly McCully Brown is the author of The Virginia State Colony For Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in poetry. Raised in rural Virginia, she is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Stanford University, and the University of Mississippi, where she received an MFA. Her poems and essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Tin House, Crazyhorse, The New York Times, Pleiades, Image, and elsewhere. She’s been the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the University of Mississippi, where she was a John and Renée Grisham fellow. She is the 2017-2018 Jeff Baskin Writers Fellow at The Oxford American magazine and is at work on a collection of essays as well as a collaborative collection of poems with the writer Susannah Nevison.

Portrait photo by Kristin Teston.
  • Artwork by Molly McCully Brown
Artwork by Molly McCully Brown


Labor, 2017

If you have the body for it, you’re bound for the fields
to pick strawberries and coax the milk from cows,
or hired out to make baking powder biscuits and gravy,
to sweep floors and wash and fold a stranger’s clothes.
You come back on a truck after sunset, raw and ragged, covered in flour, tobacco, or clay. You come back bone tired and bruised, burned dead out and ready to be shut away.
You sleep.
I know all this from stories. I do not have the body for it.
I do not go to the fields, or the barns, or the parlors of other folks’ houses.
I wake up at sunrise, when they wake the rest, lie in bed
til somebody hauls me out and puts me by the window. Lord, I know
to want to work’s a foolish thing to those who’ve got a body built for working.
I was as close to born here as you can get, brought twisted and mewling
to the gates and left. Since then, I am one long echo of somebody else’s life. Every understanding that I have is scrap, is shard, is secondhand.

Distance: the space between the porch railing and the rise of the Blue Ridge.
Water: what comes from a bucket to my body on Sundays; what I open my mouth for, morning and night.
Sex: The days the girls come back smelling of whiskey, snuff, and sweat, and something sharp.