Two Views of a Discarded Mattress

- 1969-

1.

Propped against a tree on a sidewalk next 
to the trash cans, shorn of sheets, its fabric 
a casing for its coils, harborer of secretions 
seeped and dried, its phosphorous surface 
glitters abandoned skin flakes in moonlight, 
shingles from roof sides of humans. Mucous
trails pearlescent from a snail crawled up
the trunk of the tree upon which this bed 
formerly slept on now leans. Loved upon?
Perhaps. Dreamt on most definitely. Hands
on skin most definitely, the stains it harbors
are the trails of dreams, the shotguns aimed
at baby carriages, molars boring holes into 
the palm upon which they are cast like dice,
and the mystery of love as scratchy and fine
smelling as the needle tree that carried you
off with its scent of resin: it’s a hideous thing.

2.

Sheet marks on the face won’t disappear into
the water filling the basin. Under the eyes dark 
lakes before the resinous reflection of window
cast into mirror by interior lights set against
the night. Do you wonder if I dream of your 
shattering? Marks on the face don’t melt into 
the water. It would be strange to dream that 
hard for a stranger, even for you who became 
strange within an hour. Yet, I am waking from 
the press of your face against my face. Carried 
off over the shoulder, hauled through doorways, 
receiving your murder, once this mattress was 
bent at its middle, sagged profuse as a gaping 
blouse, and bore stains of which I was never 
aware while asleep. You knew. You were there 
too. You will dream of congress between us. 
I withdraw my hand. I refuse. Haul me away.

More by Cate Marvin

Scenes From the Battle of Us

You are like a war novel, entirely lacking
female characters, except for an occasional 
letter that makes one of the men cry. 

        I am like a table 
        that eats its own legs off
        because it’s fallen 
        in love with the floor.

My frantic hand can’t find where my leg
went. You can play the tourniquet. A tree
with white limbs will grow here someday.

        Or maybe a pup tent
        that’s collapsed in on itself, 
        it so loves the sleep
        of men sleeping beneath it.

The reason why women dislike war movies 
may have something to do with why men hate 
romantic comedies: they are both about war.

        Perhaps I should
        live in a pig’s trough.
        There, I’d be wanted.
        There, I’d be tasted.

When the mail bag drops from the sky
and lands heavy on the jungle floor, its letters 
are prepared to swim away with your tears.

        One letter reads: 
        I can barely feel
        furtive. The other: 
        I am diminishing.

A Windmill Makes A Statement

You think I like to stand all day, all night,
all any kind of light, to be subject only
to wind? You are right. If seasons undo
me, you are my season. And you are the light
making off with its reflection as my stainless
steel fins spin.

		On lawns, on lawns we stand,
we windmills make a statement. We turn air,
churn air, turning always on waiting for your
season. There is no lover more lover than the air.
You care, you care as you twist my arms
round, till my songs become popsicle

and I wing out radiants of light all across
suburban lawns. You are right, the churning
is for you, for you are right, no one but you
I spin for all night, all day, restless for your

sight to pass across the lawn, tease grasses,
because I so like how you lay above me,
how I hovered beneath you, and we learned
some other way to say: There you are.

You strip the cut, splice it to strips, you mill
the wind, you scissor the air into ecstasy until
all lawns shimmer with your bluest energy.

Lying My Head Off

Here's my head, in a dank corner of the yard.
I lied it off and so off it rolled.
It wasn't unbelieving that caused it
to drop off my neck and loll down a slope.
Perhaps it had a mind of its own, wanted
to leave me for a little while.

Or it was scared and detached itself
from the stalk of my neck as a lizard's tail
will desert its body in fright of being caught.
The fact is, I never lied. The fact is,
I always lied. Before us, we have two mirrors.
At times, they say, one must lie in order

to survive. I drove by the house, passed
it several times, pretending it was not
my own. Its windows were red with curtains
and the honeyed light cast on the porch
did not succeed in luring me back inside.
I never lied. I drove by the house,

suckling the thought of other lovers
like a lozenge. I was pale as a papery birch.
I was pure as a brand new pair of underwear.
It will be a long while before I touch another.
Yet, I always lied, an oil slick on my tongue.
I used to think that I was wrong, could

not tell the truth for what it was. Yet, one
cannot take a lawsuit out on oneself.
I would have sworn in court that I believed
myself and then felt guilty a long time after.
I hated the house and I hated myself.
The house fattened with books, made me

grow to hate books, when all the while
it was only books that never claimed
to tell the truth. I hated him and I hated
his room, within which his cloud of smoke
heaved. I disappeared up narrow stairs,
slipped quick beneath the covers.

My stomach hurts, I told him, I was tired.
I grew my dreams thick through hot nights:
dear, flickering flowers. They had eyes
which stared, and I found I could not afford
their nurture, could not return their stare,
Meanwhile, liars began their parade

without my asking, strode sidewalks inches
before my doorstep. I watched their hulking
and strange beauty, their songs pregnant
with freedom, and became an other self.
I taught children how to curse.
I bought children gold pints of liquor.

I sold my mind on the street.
1 learned another language. It translates easily.
Here's how: What I say is not what I mean,
nor is it ever what I meant to say.
You must not believe me when I say
there's nothing left to love in this world.

Related Poems

Nursing

When you ask where I want it, the knife you’ve made of your tongue—so swollen
& hard it fills the empty spaces left by bicuspids, lost to excess of sweet, to child
 
Or adult play—I say nothing, only nudge your lips from the tip of my nose past
My own, to the dark forest of my chin, where I dare you to find, blanketed in lavender,
 
Peppermint, & oud, the dimple a rock cleft decades ago. You who are not the one
Who’s named me Ma, you who are young enough to have made a cougar of my mother
 
& old enough to have sired me as you crammed for the Alabama bar. That fat tongue
You wave traces my beard’s amber & frankincense trail from neck to clavicle, & when
 
You’ve left your mark there, where we’ve agreed you may first suck the cursèd river
Coursing to stain my flesh’s surface redder, where only I’ll see it long after you’ve departed,
 
You let the perfumed purse you’ve gathered inside your mouth drip onto my meager chest’s
Tiny right eye, dilating now, begging like a young bud waiting to bloom for mourning dew.
 
You blow as it swells, then latch & shower it in wet expectation. Make of me, sweet lord,
The mother of some new nectar we misbegotten ones can nurse inside & pass from breast
 
To breast. Make of this hallowed hearth in my chest a pulsing womb, an isthmus to anywhere 
but Here—where bare backs kiss this floor’s knotted tiles & your cedar bed towers—so far from home.

Shape

The scroll is a shape that keeps returning. It’s old and circular. It contains a vertical nature (this is why we use the electronic verb to scroll, which is how you may be reading this). The scroll corresponds to the hermeneutical act of reading and writing. In the legend of Saint Romanos the Melodious, we are told his voice is like hearing metal scraping upon metal. He is visited by the Virgin Mary in a dream. She offers a scroll for him to swallow. When he wakes, he wakes with a mellifluous song-voice and a genius for composing music of praise and lament. 

			     carried away       carry a tune

Bed space —> Dream space —> The involuted surface of the parchment she hands him —> The choral  hymn inside —> The white musical space for an intake of breath —> Before that blank was parchment was animal skin —> Epidermic space of that blank —> The younger the babe the more transparent the skin, the smoother, the more exquisite —> Bay of gravid cattle, of kine, the kindred ovine —> In utero space after space after space —> The width of the palm, kind palm to harvest the calf after calf after calf —> Skin so translucent so light-sent —> So light, sheets made of meat for the beautiful-letter —>

Our Bed Is Also Green

Please speak to meonly of the present
            or if you must            bring up the past
bring up only thatwhich you and I
            don't share. I know            this is a selfish
thing to ask. Yes, as Ihave often
            remarked, shore lunch            at hanging rock
was lovely. Yourhair and mine
            stayed put. Later on            we didn't, as we
do now, pull it fromeach other's clothes
            as if for final proof            that we've been
sleeping witheach other. In the glorious
            picnics of the past            we simply knew
such things. The rockupon which
            we sat, ran beneath            the lake, and was
the same rock wewere both looking
            over to the other            side at. I almost
felt, believe me,as if we were
            two people. Person,            I nearly could
have said, hold on.Instead, I used
            the name we had            agreed upon. Not
your fault. A nameis useful, it helps
            with the blankness            I am sometimes
feeling in regardsto you. I apologize
            for saying this            out loud. You are not
the blanknessI am speaking
            of. Plug your thought            or daydream
into me, and theyor I will often
            fail to light. You are            beginning to see
what I mean aboutthe past, how I,
            despite my facility            with pliers, and eye
for detail, may notbe suitable. What was
            your name? I am            not kidding. What comes
will run us throughfrom the front, we
            pull our way            down its length
if only to see, at lastwhat has ahold
            of the spear-grip.            Therefore, the future,
as a topic, is sadlyalso out. Instead, let's
            cast the deep side            of the weedbed
together. The lakeis black, like slate
            we scrape across            with paddles toward
the weedtops,sticking up, like alien
            flags, above            the invisible
settlements, the castleyou've dropped
            your hooks            inside of. I love
how destructiveyou are with the fishes,
            so go ahead            and bring your war
against them, Ramona,against the duck,
            against time,            against any things
that swim. Our fiber-glass canoe is of
            burnt orange;            our shapely hooks
of shining gold;our giant rock, also
            somewhere in the lake            beneath us, is
the bottom, towardwhich the minnow,
            lip-hooked, dives            after the lead,
its weight a thingthe minnow seems
            to follow, as if            we sent it dropping
both for what we hadto give away and still
            we didn't want            the lake to have.