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Old Smile at the Roast

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Test for the Old Smile, they’re going to roast it—
it’ll have to keep its ends up all night,
for the secretary says she finds it creepy,
and the golfing partner says you got that right,

and the rival says it’s fake, and the ambitious
junior makes his point with a few slides,
and the protege the Smile was always sweet to
walks up and says it turns his insides.

They harp on it, the bosses and the buddies,
and things get even better by these lights,
which is to say it’s shredded like a secret,
which is to say it’s one of the great nights;

and folks are saying so while they’re still roasting:
they cry out to the Smile and it smiles back,
like something huge is burdening a hammock,
or is until you hear a frightful crack.—

And then you better run like you saw nothing.
And then you better run like you weren’t there.
There is a line, it’s long and isn’t smiling.
You won’t believe me when I tell you where.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2008)

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This poem originally appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

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Old Smile at the Roast

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  • Born in England to Welsh parents, Glyn Maxwell was educated at Oxford University and Boston University, where he studied both poetry and theater with Derek Walcott. This simultaneous training in two disciplines has enabled him to create innovative work across genres. Maxwell has written numerous verse plays as well as long narrative poems. The Sugar Mile (2005), a verse narrative set in a Manhattan bar a few days before September 11, 2001, weaves together several voices and stories exploring the nature of fate. Time’s Fool: A Tale in Verse (2000) updates the Flying Dutchman story in 400 pages of strict terza rima. Explaining his reason for choosing such a challenging rhyme structure, Maxwell said in an interview for The Atlantic, “Terza rima approximates to thought, or the place where two elements—thought and light—connect. The first line of a terza rima is already an echo—it’s an echo of the middle line...

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