Back to Issue Forty-Three

Dana Says All Poems Have a Volta, Even Haiku



I’m on a panel with the poets, ten of us
on stage, water bottles at our feet because
branding ruins photographs, we’re told.
We have four mics to share between us,
and when I pull one toward me, my voice
fills the room, and then I push the mic
toward Adrian, take a drink, hide my water
under the table, and listen. I’m listening
to the poets answer questions about revision
and form and the volta—yes, Dana says,
all poems have one, that moment when

everything changes—
and the whole time I’m thinking
of your hands on me.


Now They’re Saying Isolation Atrophies the Brain



Talking to yourself in an empty room
sometimes feels like prayer but isn’t.

It isn’t prayer if you’re not asking
for anything, and what would you ask for?

Any request more specific than save me
would be so granular as to be worthless.

It can’t be prayer if you’re standing
at your kitchen counter, wearing an apron

and a far-off look. It can’t be prayer
if you’re walking in your neighborhood,

muttering to yourself, while Orion
keeps buckling and unbuckling his belt

over the houses. It can’t be prayer if you have
the expectation of privacy. If you think

no one’s listening. As a child I believed
so fiercely in the power of my own mind,

when I thought apple, I half-expected
a real one, large and red, to appear

in my hand. Now I know better. I talk
to myself. Sometimes I even answer.


You Ask Me If I Believe in the Afterlife



I don’t. But what if I’m wrong, you say.
What if there’s something else. What if
there’s not one but multiple heavens.
What if each of us goes into our own dream.
What would I want the afterlife to be,
if I’m wrong. That’s easy: I’d think any song
and it would start playing inside me.
Then another, and another, and another.
I’d be sitting under a tree, sunlight filtering
down through the leaves, ringing against my skin.
On second thought, I can’t imagine why
I’d have skin in the afterlife. What a relief,
the idea of continuing beyond the body.
Outgrowing it, like a childhood dress.
If I’m wrong, I say, I’d want to be
a sun-dappled stereo. My own mind
playing song after song, a hell of a score.


Maggie Smith is the bestselling author of several books, including Goldenrod, Good Bones, and Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change. Her next book, a memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, will be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in April 2023. Smith’s poems and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, the Guardian, the Paris Review, Tin House, the Washington Post, and The Best American Poetry. She serves as an Editor at Large for the Kenyon Review and is on the MFA faculty of the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing. In Fall 2022 she is also teaching in the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. You can find her on social media @MaggieSmithPoet.

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