In these two poems by Cate Marvin from her book Oracle (Norton, 2015), we see some of the tensions the two poets discuss in their conversation. In “Plastic Cookie” the tension is more about different loyalties when lovers are also each single parents and fiercely protective of their children. “Next of Kin” reminds me of Freud’s comment, “his majesty the baby,” as the poem explores the sort of sublime self-absorption of babies. We get both the lived experience of mother and baby, and also the self-consciousness of being mother and baby observed by others. The poem almost feels cubist in the different angles it presents.
Betsy Sholl, Maine Arts Journal Poetry Editor
Cate Marvin’s fourth book of poems, Event Horizon, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon in 2022. A former Guggenheim Fellow, she is a Professor of English at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, and lives in Scarborough, Maine. She also serves as faculty mentor in the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine.
Like a teapot, I’m tipped to spill from my kettle snout
some silver tears, these few drops that glow and drip
their arrows down into the ground from off my eyes
and nose. I was going to send back the plastic cookie
fallen from your daughter’s false stove, her pretend
kitchenette, into the net compartment that opens up
beneath my daughter’s stroller when its pink flower
is broken open, which I discovered upon landing in
Newark, to push my nervy daughter along bright
airport corridors so that we might be reunited with
our luggage. My orange suitcase pops its atrocity out
from that mystery mouth that spills onto the metallic
fins that spool around, and I run to clutch at it, heave
its weight. Yet, just yesterday, it sat fat in your room,
contents sprung: underwear, diapers. The both of us
fearful for our respective daughters, too deep, perhaps,
in love with our singular daughters, drinking late into
the night, speaking of our daughters. Earlier, furious
your fearsome daughter pulled her entire plastic kitchen
down, crashed it to the floor, as if toppling a bookshelf
with the simple tug of a hand. Daughters astonishing
daughters! Mine with her dish-wash hair, plate eyes
full of gray-blues, wanting to play with your daughter’s
stove, the plastic kettles, tea cups. Still little, wobbling
all over the room. Then dusk sat its fat ass down at last.
To our great relief, we found our daughters deep asleep,
and were free to drink the rum of us, which was, as it
always had been, a gradual drink. And you know what
you know with your hands, wish the night blacker since
blackest is forever. Who’d believe I’d be dropping such
bells of tears now, to hear them ring inside the earth that
absorbs them? Let us not hand down this history to our
daughters. Let’s ignore what a plastic cookie means to us,
or for that matter why your daughter had one in the first
place. Forget your daughter’s pale glare in that doorway’s
3 a.m.: innocent us lying underneath and atop one another
on your lousy futon. Denier, liar, totem. You’d given me
a plastic cookie. No. You and your daughter gave me and
my daughter a plastic cookie. You cannot now comfort me.
So disown me. The soil is free. Within it lives all that matters.
One day, I’ll see you down there. Daughter-free.
NEXT OF KIN
The pastry shop’s caught on fire. Baby waves
at the fire truck. Like any baby, Baby waves at
anything and anybody. That bus that drove us
immediately past the flames ate up the pastry
shop. Baby’s confection unto herself, which is
why Mother hands down that look saying you
have no right to even think of slapping Baby.
Baby’s small and smug as a snail, neater than
a crisply-tied bow, wakes daily cleaner unto
herself soiled than we do walking down aisles
formally garbed, gifting ourselves unto death.
That she-bastard baby, always waving! Nerve.
Mother’s moving through rooms as if nothing
strange’s occurred, as if the baby’s come from
nowhere but her own body, that baby waving
at everything and everybody. Nerve. Whoever
heard anything so sad as what that baby will
have to go through? She refused to disclose its
paternity. Is it a lap child? (Mother is boarding
a plane with Baby in tow.) And how come that
baby’s hair’s gold, when hers is dark? Strange
eyes, it’s got, oh, not to mention all those rows
on rows of teeth: how does she manage to feed
it? (Excited, Baby sank her teeth into her mother’s
shoulder.) Now everything’s burnt down, and all
that baby does is smile. Dogs snarl like insults
hurled in our kitchens as Baby drops morsels
off her high-chair’s side for her dog to snap up
snappishly. Good girl, murmuring, she touches
electrical outlets outright, shakes her head No.
She’s been told. But who cares where a baby’s
come from once Baby’s arrived? All the sugary
shops are done for. Baby’s hair grows like floss
straight off her skull. She is candy, she is cupid,
she is grunting and pooping. Mother with dun
hair and smudged eyes yawns as Baby waves
at an ossified hotel, at the worn lovers in check-
out lines, at the mad old woman with mirrored
sunglasses perched on the noble deck of her face,
because this much is clear: Baby’s got years on
you. She’s welcoming this bad world, she’ll grab
your sad ass and spit you up on her pinkest bib.
Image at top: Lucia Marvin, Plastic Cookie, age 12.