When she leaves the path, the forest opens for her
like a picture book minus the story in which
she has a deer for a brother and braids him a leash
out of flowers. It's no way to live. The girl does not know
wickedness when she sees it. What is she doing alone?
Gathering nosegays? Using her mother's disregard
to hack through the brambles? She measures her distance
in lines: a sonnet for every fourteen steps down
a long hall of yellow leaves. They smell bitter as aspirin.
In the nearly invisible rain, they twitch as if tugged
by clear wires. What a pity, she never arrives.
For all she knows, the woman still waits for wine
and cake, her gown gathering dust from the sands
of ancient Egypt, from stars burnt out a billion years ago.
The girl is lost, not hunted. Taken, but not into a hot,
dark mouth. Nothing lurks in the fir's blue pins.
Swallowed whole by trees, eaten alive in a manner
of speaking, she walks toward a point none of us can see.
It is blacker there than in the gut. From far off, her life
rings like a thrown voice. Let it not be a fable for others.
An Island in the Movies
And though only children were meant
to believe this, I still believe this.
--Beckian Fritz Goldberg
I packed my sister's suitcase by putting an idea
in her head--that at the other end of the sewer pipe
waited the world we had before the child bride
disappeared from bed, before razorblades
in apples and boys no older than the ones
on our street dying far away, alone, and piled up
on the news. I wanted to believe that I sent her
like a scout, and she'd come back for the rest of us.
My sister crawled inside, and the darkness sort of
ate her. At least that's how I remember it--
like looking at a photograph and knowing someone
is just outside the edges. When she stopped
calling Polo, I ran home and said I hadn't seen her
since breakfast, that she was up a tree
or on the Albrights' trampoline. I wanted to believe
the fable I told myself--that the missing and dead
were together somewhere, like an island in the movies,
with no phones for telling us they're all right,
and no boats or planes to bring them home.
That she crawled toward a pinhole of pink-gold light
and waves like applause. That what I'd promised
was real: a place where everyone wears palm leaves,
and blue-and-yellow parrots eat right from your hand.
The stories say the banished dead are wild now,
crouching among scrawny trees, skinning rabbits
and raising them like lanterns. Who needs light
when you're disfigured, kept from even the idea
of heaven, with slit throats or bulging eyes or
bits of skull clinging like pieces of seashell.
The stories say they have no hearts. That they wear
the broken bodies they left in. They can't be
whole again, but at least they can stay in the woods,
under the creek bridge. At least they can lick dew
from leaves until their tongues rust. At least
if the creek runs, it will keep them from seeing
their reflections, their eyes too haunted to be the eyes
of deer. The stories say that you can hear them.
That they sing by the lanterns of skinned rabbits.
That the music is what coats the grass with frost.
-from The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, selected by Guest Editor Judy Jordan
PROMPT: Write a first-person, narrative poem in which you mythologize a story from your childhood with someone dear to you (a family member, a best friend, an imaginary friend, …), as in Maggie Smith’s “An Island in the Movies.” Compose in couplets with a monoset (a single-line stanza) at the end and keep the poem under a page. Then find an epigraph that speaks to the poem and, from the epigraph, craft the poem’s title.
BIO: Maggie Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Weep Up (Tupelo Press, September 2017); The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015); and Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005). Smith is also the author of three prizewinning chapbooks. Her poems appear in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Guernica, Plume, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. In 2016 her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally and has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. PRI (Public Radio International) called it “the official poem of 2016.”
Smith has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, among others. She lives in Bexley, Ohio, and is a freelance writer and editor.