The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison

Incredible new book by Maggie Smith, The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison. It won the Dorset Prize from Tupelo Press. I utterly devoured it, and then read it a second time.

Wren Songs

It’s an installation: Wrens pinned like brooches

to the trees, singing, their eyes glass beads.

Shake a branch, be wary of what falls.

In the unofficial spring, sunshine plays xylophone

on the lawn. The trebly notes are mouths

singing oh, oh, oh. A paper boat leads

the children downstream, through countless

shades of green—spring, grass, moss, forest.

Light plus one green makes another.

The exhibit rotates seasonally. Soon enough

the children will instead be foxes, the greens

will rust. Someone will strike the wren set.

But for now their songs saturate the air.

If the message is urgent, they’ll tell again tomorrow.



The stories say the banished dead are wild now,
crouching among scrawny trees, skinning rabbits
and raising them like lanterns. Who needs light
when you’re disfigured, kept from even the idea
of heaven, with slit throats or bulging eyes or
bits of skull clinging like pieces of seashell.
The stories say they have no hearts. That they wear
the broken bodies they left in. They can’t be
whole again, but at least they can stay in the woods,
under the creek bridge. At least they can lick dew
from leaves until their tongues rust. At least
if the creek runs, it will keep them from seeing
their reflections, their eyes too haunted to be the eyes
of deer. The stories say that you can hear them.
That they sing by the lanterns of skinned rabbits.
That the music is what coats the grass with frost.

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