Your Friend Calls it Cotard Delusion, Your Therapist Says ‘Stop Diagnosing Yourself’ (in other words), and the Flame Goes Out Again

by Jolie Smith



There’s a Shadow in the corner tonight. Sooner or later

you will understand that it’s you (looking for a lost earring) or you (losing your mind)

or whatever else you got into last night. The Shadow will crack under

through the skylight, under the sea—turning into a face mankind forgot to confront

long ago. The world grazing your cheekbones in a single hush.


You’re eating dinner with a stranger tonight. You ask, Am I real? 

She doesn’t give you a straight answer. Thinks you’re kidding,

but she never really looks you in the eye. You have yet to break

any pearly cracks of contempt. Yet to cross the desert lines of your own small child.



Before I forget to mention it,

you will hate the Shadow in the corner 

of your room at night and 

it’s not even the long fingers

turning over your neck, but the arrival 

of a darkness you’ve never met. 

The licking of plums,

the spot at the back of your head

that doctors keep fixing with band aids. In dreams

fear is absent, I should warn you, 

you’re just a dizzy clump of bones and not much else.

It’s so much easier to become a ghost.

I must tell you before I forget. 

I must tell us all before I forget.



Imagine this. There are ants crawling up and down your kitchen sink.

You reach for the vinegar and it is October 17, the sun is a bright orange ball 

and the neighborhood kids are playing tag. The ants reach in and yank a bone 

out of you. But it is time to move on. The person you love says, Tell me a story. 


It is April 4, you are six years old, and your mom says, Look up! 

She kisses under your neck. Your ears tingle from the mess. 

The person you love says, That’s not a story, it’s a feeling. 

And she is right because your ears still ring with mess. 


It is 6am on June 28 and you are washing your favorite bowl. 

The ants appear, stomping around the faucet while you try to find

what crumbs you left behind this time. The ants seem heavenly

eating up the sticky mess. They sway and circle and—


There's a shadow in the corner tonight. Time. Such a thief. 

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