Sunday Apr 14

SmithMaggie Maggie Smith is the author of, most recently, Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017) and The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015), winner of the Dorset Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the New York Times, The Best American Poetry 2017, Ploughshares, Tin House, AGNI, and elsewhere. In 2016 her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally and was called the “Official Poem of 2016” by Public Radio International. Smith is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. She lives and writes in Ohio. Visit her web site here.

Ohio Cento

The palaces of night go on forever:
a white moon, white houses, white barns,
sometimes a run of hazel; sometimes, depending,

winged sparks breeding in the hay,
bored with the place they chose to light.

Listen to me. At night I dream of grass. Thick, verdant fields
and that green you see just under the surface.
I still dream of home

—I press my ear to the door, hear the grain’s slight heartbeat—

but with the experience of the long married,
like a lung next to its double, only the double
is a city. Underneath my skin,

between two fields of almost-ripened wheat,   
twilight folds over houses on our street.

Deer Shield

For almost twenty years I’ve made this
backcountry drive or one like it,

past the Beulah United Methodist Church,
past the Misty Rose Miniature Horse Farm,

but in this morning’s dense fog advisory
I can’t tail this pickup close enough.

Between us, a thin tether of light
stretches, elastic, pulling me through

a fallen cloud. Each sign, barn, house—
even Beulah’s white steeple—suddenly

materializes as I pass, as if making itself
right in front of me. The truck speeds

headlong into the white. Over each rise,
I lose it, and something in my belly lifts

but never settles back again. I can hear
my father: this time of year the deer

feed all night and bound home at sunrise,
full and oblivious. I come up on one

in the shoulder, see the round of its belly
take shape in the mist, then the velvety

antler buds. It’s a young one, broken-necked,
doubled over itself, one swipe of bright-red

blood near its ear. It hasn’t been here long.
The tether of light tugs, threatens to snap.

I can hear my father: if you see one
of anything, there are more you don’t see.


When I hear the word verbena,
I hear one part vertebrae, one part banal—
lemon verbena, plain as a spine,

not something I could keep alive.
Whatever grows here is watered
only when it rains. Only succulents.

Once, when we moved, I threw away
a potted plant to avoid packing it.
It ended up in the dumpster

behind the apartment complex,
the one we’d peek inside to see
raccoons among cathode ray TVs.

This was before our children.
Look at us now, feeding and watering,
trimming hair and nails, doling out

small cups of various vitamins
and probiotics each morning.
They are thriving here in low light.

When I hear the word resilient,
I hear one part recent, one part silt—
new particulate, new soil.


It has an elbow, a knee,
a knot for each syllable
in imagination. Don’t run with it,
don’t hit your sister with it,
don’t swing it near the dog.
It’s an arm, a leg, a crutch—
let’s walk with it. It’s a cane
with a crook for holding us up.
Let’s lean on it. It’s a rifle.
Look, there’s the trigger.
It’s a sword, a saber.
We can fence with it, flip
a dead cicada from its back.
We can sling it into the trees,
knocking down seed pods.
It has a bruise, a scrape
on its wrist, a skinned knee
where bark is peeling.
And how could I forget?
It’s a magic wand. With it
we can make anything
vanish, even the stick itself—
I mean the stick as stick.
Forgive me, I have asked it
one small favor: for it to be
something, anything, else.