“To the Dead Man Living Inside My Knee” and “What I Thought Was Pollution Was Really God”

In Issue 77 by Jamie L. Smith

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Photo by merlin74 on Adobe Stock

To the Dead Man Living Inside My Knee

A careless dictator, most days

I do not think of you

unless you protest, beating your fists

against the walls of my flesh

when I’ve danced you too hard

or damp February

clenches your teeth

into a knot of hot fury. Please

forgive my tendency

to fall up subway station stairs.

This can’t be

the afterlife you imagined:

those wobbly cobblestones

skirting Jane Street

we ran in stilettoes

outpacing a chestnut police horse

weaving gridlocked traffic.

Thank you

for not giving up on me.

For kneeling quietly in pew after pew.

What have I given you

but four more presidencies,

hitchhiking three countries,

and countless times

we’ve fallen asleep

folded over

in economy class? I never

thanked you

for our last dance with Alice,

how you let me lift her

from the conference room carpet

and we kissed California

goodbye. Thank you

for keeping me upright

when the phone sounded

and I knew

before answering—

I never thanked you

for the way you buckled

but held fast, for the way

we walked on

and on until you screamed

and I hurt less

or differently. Please

keep carrying me.

What I Thought Was Light Pollution Was Really God

Rosy omni-glow swatches my walls

turning dust into tiny star-drifts. Most nights

I walk beneath constellations of streetlights.

Broadway billboards shuffling neon

ignite that silica shimmer I love—sidewalks

set to glimmer and deflect rain.

Red rolling over blue folded into siren scream—

ambulances I called for my Alices.

Don’t think of them. The way it ended. We began

in the grass, on our backs, legs

lifted in the air so we could grind clouds and supernovas

beneath our heels. Imagine the dust

spilling from all those nebulae we might have crushed.

Maybe the old Gods were just

as reckless. Wrong to turn warriors

into zodiacs and birds—

to give them flight—to give them their own

gravity and light.

About the Author

Jamie L. Smith

Jamie L. Smith is the author of the chapbook Mythology Lessons, winner of Tusculum Review's 2020 Nonfiction Prize, selected by judge David Lazar. Her work appears in publications including Southern Humanities Review, Ruminate, Bellevue Literary Review, Pigeon Pages, San Antonio Review, Not-Very-Quiet, Red Noise Collective, and recent anthologies by Indie Blu(e) and Allegory Ridge. She was listed as a Best American Essays Notable in 2021. She is a PhD candidate in English Literature & Creative Writing at University of Utah.

Read more work by Jamie L. Smith .