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.