The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Maggie Smith

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Maggie Smith


Nothing is yours.
All of this, everything, is ours.

When my daughter, age seven,
says this to her little brother,
I stop sliding the white plates

into the kitchen cabinet
and peek into the playroom.

So much of what she says
has the tone of prophecy,
as if part of her lives

in the future, as if she’s traveled
up ahead, out of sight,

but has stopped and turned,
hearing me call. I call them
my children, but nothing is mine.

They are part of the shared all
and everything she speaks of.

Every night I check on her
in her bed, in the here
and now, knowing

she is not mine, and part of her
is already elsewhere.


The Sound of Cats

In every country is a word which attempts the sound of cats. – Lyn Hejinian

When I was a child, a well swallowed a small girl
in her back yard. On TV they tore down fences
to truck in drills, excavators, extractors.
They lay on their bellies and talked down the hole
to keep her awake, to know she was still alive.
They’d say how does a kitten go? and she’d meow.
I ask my son how does a kitten go? and he crawls
toward me through our overgrown, dew-damp grass,
meowing. Is the sound a want? My son purrs,
licks the back of his small fists. Every sound
is hunger. Morning sings and chitters all around us.
The higher the sun, the more our shadows retract.
We swallow them feet-first until we’re full.



The backyard is black with grackles
and the baby caws at them,
mistaken, startling

the flock into an oak—
the rustle of a thousand pages
turning, a thousand readers each

turning to the next page in a book.
We go quiet and let them
settle again to the ground,

where they peck and click
chack chack like typewriter keys.
Soon the baby claps

his dimpled hands
to send the birds back up
into the branches. How quickly

he’s learned he can make a thing
happen. How quickly
this turn.

Maggie Smith’s most recent books are Good Bones and The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison. Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, Ploughshares, AGNI, and elsewhere. In 2016 her poem “Good Bones” went viral internationally and was called the “Official Poem of 2016” by Public Radio International.


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