Cate Marvin

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.
I 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.


Cate Marvin
Lying My Head Off was first published in New England Review, Summer 2004.
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Cate Marvin
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse