Muckraker

By Cate Marvin b. 1969 Cate Marvin

As one in dowte, thys ys my ssayyng:
Have I dysplesed yow in any thyng?
—Thomas Wyatt

That greasy letter into which my legs entered,
its tone conspiratorial as his wink, a linguistic
wriggling of the eyebrows, a heh heh—it may
as well have appeared before my door chafing
the air with the stiff noise of its cheap leather
jacket. Am I not chagrined by his proposition
to put it all behind us and begin again as friends?
How do I reply? And how shall I contend with
the fact, Reader, that this matter cannot mean
much to you, and that I, as author, am required

to consider how to tell this tale in a manner that
will entertain you, despite having never met you
and having no way of knowing how to affect you,
get you to let me touch you all over, kiss your lips
then tongue your mouth open, move my mouth
down your neck to the valley of your chest, pluck
buttons off you with my teeth. I have thought of
this for a great, long time. I have sat here hunched,
feeling sick; I have paced rugs bare. Why should
you care? His door opened, selves spilled out my

heart's bucket, flopped their silvers across a floor.
He was too poor to enter a store, too poor to pay
postage for a letter, so poor he'd have stolen crumbs
from a mouse, so poor he'd have sold his cadaver
if he could. Yet, consider the man: his deep voice
began to work away at my inhibitions like sandpaper.
Before I knew it, I'd moved right into him, wiped
the eyes of windows clear, mended the tears in his
screens, made our bed with sheets so icy clean—
but you do not want me to give too much away.
What fun would that be? Here, as with any tale,
the moral's like a molar, set far back in the mouth
of the story. Open wider, let me stick my pliers in,
wrench it out. Left unattended, anything's prone
to spoil, go bad, turn rotten, sink into itself, stink
up the whole house. And how shall I begin to make
my account? Dig through the junk heap. Start small.
He grew over me calmly as a vine climbs a trellis.
Your nightgown is unbecoming. A few small terrorisms.
Eyes wide at my wince, incredulous. You thought I'd

hit you? Loom large. His question was rhetorical.
You have a disease. Or aim dead center and toss my
dart. Tell it plain, an expensive watch, rent checks,
designer sunglasses, a ring, a student named Nadine,
Prozac, Visa, Harold Bloom, Jim Beam. But this is not
the stuff of poesy, is it? Shall I shut up and return to
my book? Details! Only details can raise this story's
sail. Money's one thing, but this is another poverty
altogether. We had an agreement, pills plucked daily
from a dial. Lawns in August, plot after plot of green,

the warm hiss of sprinklers arcing rainbows, children's
delighted screams. It was a fault to desire these things.
Junk heap! Wrench the cumbersome thing out, heavy
and foul as a discarded couch, his omission. Hadn't
I known his books were his children? Adding up all
the hours I'd breathed beside him, years handed over
as if on a platter, it is simply too much, all that while,
how each night he partook of his clean, black sleep—
Reader, do I border on the obscene? Have I forced
you to give up your sympathies in exchange for more
lurid curiosities? I am reminded of a trip I took long
ago to a small city in Mexico. How carefully I listened
to a man tell us the only means by which to recognize
real silver was from a number stamped on the jewelry's
side. Only later, arriving home, would I realize that
lowly guide contrived to have the van arrive at stores
run by his friends, bracelets and rings sweating off
their dull green circlets onto my wrists, my fingers.
Counterfeit! This is war, this is two spiders a child's
dropped into a jar, scrabbling at the glass and flinging

their webs, each so intent on killing the other, the fact
they are both trapped has ceased to matter. O, blood,
blood, blood! Shall I, Reader, be a tad more explicit?
Here's my problem: I must be very, very careful with
what I say. He always complained that I caused a scene
even at the courthouse, after I'd paid the processing
fee, when asked whether he could spare some change
to pay the parking attendant, he growled keep your voice
down as if it had jumped on his legs. To speak of money
in public is impolite, or so his mother had taught him.

His wisdom tooth was rotting, the infection was liable
to spread to his brain, and he was too poor to have it
extracted. He stated this over and over, slowly, as if he
believed I was having trouble understanding English
or had suddenly turned mentally deficient. A problem:
If you can't trust people, you can't trust books, since
books are people and people are books. Shall I ask him
to sign it? Beautiful dreamer, may all your beginnings be true
beginnings. You think this unseemly for me to confide?
Reader, don't mistake me for someone who gives a shit,
or your bride. I have no loyalty and I have no pride.

Source: Poetry (February 2007).

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This poem originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2007
 Cate  Marvin

Biography

Raised in Washington, DC, Cate Marvin uses her work to explore what it means to be an “American poet.” Marvin is interested in how American identity collides with the English language, focusing heavily on language play and on the intersection of identity, language, and the natural landscape. An accomplished poet and fiction writer as well as an academic, Marvin holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Houston, an MFA in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Disappointment & Failure, Humor & Satire, Home Life, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Men & Women

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Dramatic Monologue

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