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Marney Rathbun ’16

Alumnae & Visiting Poet

Marney Rathbun

Marney Rathbun ’16 grew up on Cape Cod. She received her B.A. in Africana Studies from Smith College in 2016 where she completed an undergraduate honors thesis on the poetry of Lucille Clifton entitled “The Poetics of Space: A Close Study of Lucille Clifton’s Aesthetic and Ethic.” She is currently in her final semester of an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at New York University. As a senior at Smith, Marney was awarded first place in the “Jubilat Makes a Chapbook Competition” for her collection entitled I call my father by his name (Jubilat, May 2016). Marney’s poems can be found in (b)OINK Magazine, The Fourth River, Reservoir, and elsewhere. Her work loosely engages the queer, feminine subject in relation to family and childhood trauma, and aims to be as formal as it is accessible. She is currently editing a manuscript of essays about her father under the advising of Sharon Olds. Marney teaches elementary school in Brooklyn, NY and is an adjunct graduate professor in the English Department at NYU. On the weekends she waitresses, and on Tuesdays, she sings.

Select Poems

         mark meets his daughter

i saw her like the first lightning
waking up on the first morning
a glory born forest a fire
on the kitchen table the only thing
i could see for hours and this is
the rest of your life i thought and
red was not the color of her hair
not burning skies or velveteen or
deepening or the face of my heart
in the face of this child no her
hair was the plush flesh of a peach
this my daughter there i
imagined her into existence
and now pink infant here
i dont need a drink drunk is
9 pounds and 21 ounces of
new not amsterdam just new
this is the first moment i’ve
ever been alive the reason i didn’t
let them kill me this baby  my girl
this love might  kill me

From I CALL MY FATHER BY HIS NAME (Jubilat, 2016)


My mother wants me to marry
a man of local origin. Nothing

about him matters – he could be a basket
of balloons and screws – but that

he live close. He invite me to live
closer. Somedays, I am confused

for a neon mouth. To hide, I stuff
my mother in my ears. She speaks.

I want to live closer to her voice –
which opens and whacks

me around. Which, one night, asks
for natural grandchildren. Sperm-meets-embryo

hope. She says it over dinner: cole slaw,
sausage, potato buns in a fought-over toaster.

My mother is often cutting dark blue
cabbage. She eats beets. Our cutting boards,

pre-oiled, stain indigo.


It is Sunday. I am nannying a baby
named Stefan. He is becoming a house –

remember how it felt to become
a house – and screaming

at the columns rising
in his mouth, which is open and shaking.

I want to kill him. There is a fireplace,
a rack of wrought iron tools.

I consider the window, the ten ways
I could do it. To stop myself, I call my mother.

Who has not spoken since that
natural-child remark. My furious,

homophobic mother. Who wants me
to make life with a man. Who lets

vegetables dye the counter
when I am gone. Who lives a huge

and hurtful life, the edges of which
I envy. I want to make it easy.

I want to look into her closet
and see how she folds

her camisoles. My mother,
who on the phone confesses

when I was new, she could not be near
the knives in their block. She could not

even enter the kitchen.

In an ecru cable knit Mark boils water.
His back in its sweater beads into sweat
but he likes the sweater – it reminds him
of his grandmother, who splashed lukewarm tap
water into her scotch. Manhattan nights,
she shook n’ flicked two Sweet n’ Lows into
her coupe. We come back to booze.
Mark boils water so he doesn’t pour
wine. It could happen many ways, any
night of the week. A faucet taut to leak.
He sweats, he is hot, he is hardly not
drinking. He needs a cup to hold bacon
grease. Did I say he is frying bacon?
The Bud pops
and pours out. Sweetwater tossed to the drain
as if spoilt. If only it could, all
the liquor alive, rancify and sour.
Mark barely tips the cast-iron fryer
to transfer its meat fat to the can.
A thick glug of gold. I have no fine phrase
for the shaking of his hand.
My poor, frightened father.
Where is faith when he stirs honey into
tea? When he quietly removes his shoes
and sits to face tv, back taut in grim
refusal – where is praisesong for 
his insular no’s, for his muscular
memory of four-to-six second
pour, sown as the thumb flip of clove-hitch
knots, ignored? He lifts the BLT –
he eats. That sweet meat. That sweating man. Look
at him do the thing he does not want to
fail at. Praise him for it.

About Marney

Poetry Center Reading Dates: April 2018