Three Poems by Maggie Smith

Photo: © Nadia Belalia. All Rights Reserved.


Before we subscribe you, we need to confirm you are a human.

We need to see your eyes. We need
to measure the wide, white fear in them.
A human dream lasts two to three seconds,
so we need to time one. A nightmare
is acceptable. We need to compare
the size of your heart against your fist.
We need a swatch of your skin, to taste
the spice of sex and terror artisanal to you.
We need to inventory your thirty-two
teeth and at least four inches of tongue.
We need to knit your hair into a sweater
and try it on for size. We need to confirm
your femur is stronger than concrete.
And hollow. We need all two hundred
and six of your bones cairn-stacked.
We need to take pictures for our files.
We need to lay your veins end-to-end,
making sure they wind three times
around the earth. We need a gallon
of blood in the basin provided.
Last, to confirm or dispel humanity,
we need to collect your children.
We need anything from you or of you,
if you are, as you claim to be, human.


I was supposed to say, I’m sorry I threw
the cup of water.
The therapist had me
turn to my still-husband beside me.
And I did. I said it—then stopped

myself from saying, I’m sorry if my anger
scares you. Because, as in the horror
films I love and hate, the moment
of absolute terror is not the struggle

for the knife but the sick quiet before
the man who wields it rolls out from under
the bed. For years we slept side by side,
and for years my husband sharpened

his silence. Enough. Enough of that
whetting. I’m not sorry about the water.

On the bright side

we will not orphan our children
in a single moment in a car accident
in a plane crash in a train derailment
in a botched mugging in a convenience
store stick-up in a gas station
inferno caused by static electricity
in terrorist attack in a lightning strike
in a tornado we will not slip
off a cliff while hiking a scenic trail
we will not be swept up in a flood
we will not go over the bridge into
the river together we will not be
trapped we will not drown

Maggie Smith’s most recent book of poems is Good Bones (Tupelo Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, Tin House, APR, The Believer, Best American Poetry, and on the CBS primetime drama Madam Secretary. Visit her website at

Appears In

Issue 5

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