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.






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.