Two Poems by Cate Marvin


Why Sleep

I might miss something. The man who paces

his dog as my eyes walk with him between the slats

of blinds. The neighbor girl who always wakes

me anyhow with her cry, You're such an asshole!

And I've been inclined to agree since I heard

him tell her one four a.m. he hoped she'd die.

I might miss the nice blue and red flashing the cop's

car makes on the blind, as it hums outside—

as I strain to make out this low murmur, But she locked

me out, Sir. And I would not get to see the lovely

orange that will take this place down—and it will,

eventually, with all the gas pouring from my stove's

unlit pilot—Lovely, lovely flames! I want to watch

them consume us—and then I'd still be awake, standing

out on the chilly street, having saved myself, and having

saved myself I'd have to watch everything but me

go down. And don't I care for the neighbor girl?

Maybe I'd save her. I thought of taking a cake,

or some tea, down there tonight. But I was too afraid

she'd come to her door with an array of bruises

I'd have to address. Sleep? Those bruises are hers,

not mine. I lie, I lie. Here, inside the beat, deaf even

to the beat, only able to be the beat:  muscle, muscle,

heart, thighs. When the cop car goes away, he stays.

And then there's another sort of cry. In the morning,

I rise ringy eyed—and I suppose I rummage

through nights like a raccoon, too, having to sort

out the rotten from the rotten. This night's food satisfies;

day's a porridge that will suffice. And what's there

to say in that plain light, when I see him out walking

the dog? Hello, hello—sorry about the disturbance

last night. I must have slept through it, I lie.


Ocean is a Word in This Poem

One centimeter on the map represents one kilometer on the ground.

River I can cover with a finger, but it's not the water I resent. Ocean—

even the word thinks itself huge, and only because of what it meant.

I remember its lip on a road that ran along the coast of Portsmouth.

Waves tested a concrete brim where people stood to see how far

the water went. Sky was huge, but I didn't mind why. The sea

was too choppy and gray, a soup thick with salt and distance. Look,

sails are white as wedding dresses, but their cut is much cleaner.

No, I never planned to have a honeymoon by water, knew it'd tempt

me to leave your company, drop in. Ocean may allow boats to ride

its surface, but its word cannot anchor the white slip of this paper.

It cannot swallow the poem. Turbulence is on the wall. The map—

I would tear it, forget how I learned land's edge exists. I would sink

into the depth of past tense, more treacherous than the murk into

which our vessel went. Now when I pull down the map, eat its image

and paper, I'll swallow what wedding meant. Salt crusts my lips.