Thermopylae                                                                               —Aaron Smith


O’Hara and Plath both end a poem with this place. There was

a battle there, because there’s always a battle. When I watch the

World Cup I cheer for men with tattoos, who strip their shirts

when they score. I cheer for countries that are good to their women

and fags. I can say fags because I am a fag. A novelist who is straight

has a character in her book named Fag: “Fag enters the room. Fag-

got pours a glass of wine.” My friend is pissed, said he should write

a character named Cunt: “Cunt’s writing a novel called Fag.” The women

in Saudi Arabia can drive now. The women in Saudi Arabia are allowed

to drive now. I’ll never forget the dead girl on the road by our house.

Flat on her back, half out of her jeep. She looked like she was sleeping

is what I wish I remembered, but there was blood in a puddle and her

open, dead eyes looked scared. Men waited for an ambulance, not touching

her. Mom told us not to look when we passed. Mom asked if we knew

her from school. I know a poet who hates a poet because he tries to 

make death look beautiful. I know a poet who hates a poet because he is

beautiful. I am so stupidly happy are five words I’ll never say. I am so stupidly

happy are words I’ll never mean. The kids made fun of her on the bus, her

short, butch haircut, the same gray flannel every day. He treats it like

a movie, he says. Nobody dies perfectly when they’re supposed to. Dad asked

if the dead girl was a dyke. O’Hara asks, Are they spelled “dikes”?

The Rest of It

I read in GQ you can pay to get kidnapped, treated

how you want, let go. I’d want to get hit in the mouth, stuffed

in a trunk. A man asked me to blindfold him, and I assumed

he couldn’t stand to look at me. In Massachusetts,

when I say “Aaron,” they hear “Erin,”

and think I spell it like a girl. After you left home,

mom said, I yelled your name down the hall, I missed

hearing the sound of it in the house. “Sometimes, people consider me

a girl,” I told the boys at school, so they would be allowed

to love me. I wanted them to smother me in armpits, let me

touch their new hairy legs. When I was a child, I was made

to pray against everything I am. Poetry to me is prayer,

Sexton wrote in her letters, the rest of it is leftovers.


The story is a long one. Why
I am here like this.
     —Amiri Baraka

I’ll never forget: after the diagnosis
she was getting ready for church,

so upset she threw up. The day
she called sobbing: I love my house

and my stuff, I’m so afraid of dying—
Sunset at the beach, my sister and I

walked ahead while she drifted toward
the water. She told us to go on, take

our time, she’d wait. I kept thinking:
at the end of my mother’s life, she started

away from us. Ashamed
to write while she is still living.

Sometimes, I don’t remember driving
to the grocery, or back from a party.

How to make sense of it? Today
she tries to tell me the kind

of tired she feels—behind my eyes,
but not quite a headache
. Sometimes

when I’m out, and it’s late
and snowing, I know my mother

is the only person alive who cares
if I make it home. She’s more tired,

the treatment dose larger,
so she can have them less often.

Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is the author of three collections of poetry published by the Pitt Poetry Series: Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, Appetite and Primer. The University of Pittsburgh Press will publish his fourth collection, The Book of Daniel, in Fall 2019.

ISSN 2472-338X
© 2018