Poetry / Maggie Smith

:: Stonefish ::

There are fish in the black trenches 
of the sea that look like rocks.
Their poison shouldn’t trouble me.
They are so deep, we’ll never touch.
But I think of them. If it is paranoid 
to believe there is a trench in me
the doctors haven’t dragged, 
a cave no one’s plumbed with light, 
then fine, I’m paranoid. But whatever 
plaques and tangles, whatever cells 
wait deadly with their terrible hunger
must be disguised. You should know 
the most venomous fish lives 
in the shallows. It also looks like a rock.


From the writer

:: Account ::

It seems to me that the dominant energy in my recent poems is fear—and maybe, if I’m being honest with myself, fear has been the dominant energy in my work all along. (In the words of Samuel Beckett: “You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that.”) Lately in my poems I’ve been grappling with the complexities of motherhood, and more specifically with the terror that is necessarily part of loving someone deeply. How can we possibly keep our children from the harsh realities of the world they live in—the world we brought them to? How can we keep them safe without also keeping them from all the wonder and beauty in the world? How do we keep from inflicting our own anxieties on our children?

“Stonefish” is at its core a poem about fear for the self, fear of the mysteries inside the body, and fear of our bodies turning against us. When I learned about the stonefish, I was instantly taken in by its potential as metaphor: something deadly is very near but also very well camouflaged. I employed the sonnet structure to tighten up the poem rhetorically, with the root of the speaker’s fear revealed at the turn: that signs of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer may already be inside her, though no one has found them yet.


Maggie Smith is the author of The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison (Tupelo Press, 2015), Lamp of the Body (Red Hen Press, 2005), and three prizewinning chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, the Kenyon Review Online, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. A 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Smith has also received fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council and the Sustainable Arts Foundation.