Four Poems by Maggie Smith


Found in Willow Springs 83

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The moon is brighter since the barn burned.

And by burned I mean to the bones—

the rafters on the ground a whale’s ribcage.

A barn is mostly kindling. No wonder

it went up like that—whoosh. Or should I

question my perception? As the therapist

tells me, look for evidence to support

the feeling. One minute, beams. The next,

smoke. Didn’t my husband say, hardly

to me at all, it was a long time coming?

In this still-smoldering field, I am looking

for evidence. How can something stand

for years, and then—? Just like that?

Where the roof was, all this night.



for my next trick


Where was I, she asks,

before I was in your body?

 —What was I?


You were nowhere,

I tell her, nothing.


Then where do we go

next? She presses.

Keeps pressing: Back


to nothing?

If I could believe


I’ll see her again,

waking from whatever

this world is into


another world,

I would—


even if the ending

is so tidy, it spoils

the whole story.


We can’t talk

about birth without


talking about death,

can’t talk about death

without talking

about separation,

that thick black



Do I tell her we end

like a book—the end?


That when we’re gone,

we’re gone, too gone


to miss or even

remember each other?

She knows


what vanish means.



to do magic,

she says it as a verb:

For my next trick,


I’ll vanish you.

I tell her the stars


are the exception—

burnt out but still lit.

No, not ghosts,


not exactly. Nothing

to be scared of.



how to build a fire



First ask yourself        Why fire


in the twenty-first century      Is it serving


some primal need        drawing you closer


to the earth      to what you think of


as God            to what you think of


as ancestors     as if you know anything


about ancestors                      Ask yourself


what you need for kindling and flame


Do you empty your son’s pockets


for stones        for one you can spark


against another                      Do you saw


a stick against its brother        Do you see


God when you tilt a shard of mirror


above a nest of your shorn hair



three thoughts after crossing nameless creek



The student who told you

her mother didn’t name her for days.

For more than a week, everyone

called her Baby.



Your daughter, who now sees

the labeled world: For sale. Open. Stop.

Even Hell Is Real. It’s love/

hate, reading being automatic.

Seeing a thing and

—immediately, without consent—

knowing it.



Once, as a child, you tried to imagine

nothing—tried like hell to empty

your mind’s shameful hoard.

You stayed awake for days.

But each time you had it,

you labeled it—nothing

and that was something,

and you had to start again.

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