Aaron Smith

Still Life with Gun


When dad worked midnights, mom hid his pistol
in the kitchen in a basket of plastic flowers.

I can get to it, she said, before someone can get in the door.
She kept it by the bed before almost shooting

my father when he came home early without calling.
We joked: sleepwalking could’ve been her defense,

but something changed after she saw her husband
at gunpoint, something flipped—a safety switch—

in her head. After I go to bed, can you hide the steak knives
that are on the counter? Afraid she would get up, stab us,

accidentally—an article she’d read claimed in a dream-
state the brain remembers where objects are placed.

Years later I asked why she thought the gun was
safer: Wouldn't your mind know it was on the table? 

I don't know, she said, maybe I thought the flowers would
distract me. Nobody kills their whole family with daisies.



All You Knew


Books from your office stacked in the copy room,
red chair pushed into the hall,
your posters rolled for someone to throw away.
It's shocking how they’re clearing you out.

I kept the orchid that J says is fragile.
I took it to my mother for her to replant:
strange to see her touch what you touched.
You knew so much about her,

and she chooses to know nothing about me—
my writing, my life with men.
I can’t believe I never met Irene. 
She scooped in soil, sprinkled plant food.

Never fill the dirt level, she said,
higher than the level from the first pot.
Write this down: moderate temperature,
filteredsunlight, never leave in standing water.





You came back from retirement
to pay for chemo, but the college

took your ideas for quarter-pay.
Just one company makes the drug I need.

I thought about this on the phone
with Medco getting pills my shrink says

I'll need for life. How stupid
and poor the man made me feel

because I hadn't paid the 100 dollars
on time, because I, too, live alone,

and sometimes choose new shoes
over bills, but eventually get it all

paid. And my problem was small
in comparison. I imagined the hours

you spent on phones, pushing buttons,
saying words slow to a computer,

when the pain was too bad for you
to sit up, headaches so dizzying

you couldn't read, but you did it,
found ways to pay for pills that couldn't

cure you, barely kept you from hurting,
but kept you alive to make more

calls to make you feel bad
for wanting to feel better.





Orange chicken with fried rice,
pork fried rice, nothing steamed,
nothing you’re supposed to have.
Avoid the room with the mirror.
Take the long way to the kitchen.
Have them fry the spring rolls, too,
and the Peking ravioli.
Cancel the doctor appointment.
Add chicken fingers to the order.
Forget you start work next week
and haven’t had your good clothes on in months.
Avoid the room with the mirror.
Make the cupcakes, a whole stick of butter
and all that vegetable oil, butter cream frosting,
extra chocolate chips.
Turn up the music until your ears hurt. Eat fast.
Eat it all. Shove it all down your throat.
Shove it down.


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Aaron Smith is the author of Appetite and Blue on Blue Ground, and the winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. His work has appeared in publications including Ploughshares and The Best American Poetry 2013. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. The Pitt Poetry Series will publish his new book, Primer, this fall.