Marilyn Coffey’s Poetry Sampler

This sampler contains poems from Psychotic Break, Pricksongs: Poems from the Sixties, and feminist poems. 

Below are, “The Provocateur” and “The Men of Nebraska,” two feminist poems.  I wrote “The Provocateur” when I lived in Hays, Kansas, where a law like the one in the poem was still on the books. It was published in The Breast, an anthology published by City College of New York.



Here I live
in a town whose city dads decreed
a bare body, glimpsed though a window
against the law

Here they punish not he who glimpses
but she who bares the body
except in those rare cases
when baring a body in one's own home
might be justified:

say a matron rises naked
unexpectedly from bed
to dash to the phone
receive the news her pere
at 93 has 'passed away' 
as we put it out here

say her bare body
is momentarily glimpsed
that's not illegal
as long as it's not 'provocative'
explained the fathers

changing my definition of the term
from a woman spraddle-legged
on her porch swing, baring
'beaver' as we call it
or leaning out an open window
bare breasts supported by the sill
crooking a finger: 'psssst!'

to myself, 
trekking naked to the frig at 3 a.m.
suddenly again, after all these years
to he who glimpses me bare
momentarily illuminated
by my night light.


I recall with longing my early naked 
childhood freedom so soon gone
remember my adolescent gazing
at National Geographic spreads
where nubile girls grind grain in public
pert nipples pointing horizon ward
where mothers nurse unabashedly
& grand dames swing their dual sacks
hung flat as empty pillow cases 
How I marveled at a life with no 'hurry up
get dressed, Daddy's coming up the walk'
Papa presumably unable to control himself
so I must do it for him.


Can't help but wonder
watching my male neighbor
catch the morning breeze 
on his bare torso
as he mows the lawn
can't help but wonder if
after next Friday when I rise
one-breasted from the surgeon's saw
the other but a tuck & scar
can't help but wonder if our 
city fathers will find it 
should I then strip to my waist
mow my lawn.

“The Men of Nebraska” seems to particularly delight Nebraska women.  First published in Woodstock [NY] Times, it was reprinted in Prairie Hearts by Chicago’s Outrider Press.


Straight-legged and tight-lipped they walk
the men on the main streets of Lincoln

Faces crease as neatly as perma-press seams
ironed by a life pursuing the rectangular

A life run as straight as their streets, as narrow:
laid out at right angles to the known earth's four corners.

Behind their eyes:  ticker tapes repeat various prices
of cattle (up) and hogs (down) at yesterday's markets.

Behind their eyes spin constant weather reports:
inches of rainfall calculated to the second decimal.

Behind their eyes sweeps a tornado of the immeasurable:
Of curves not straightened.  Of whirls and eddies.  Of tides.

Down the streets of Nebraska stiff shadows approach.
They size me up.  A lid flickers.  It's a small problem

for men used to assessing the value of a brood mare,
or pricing a thresher.  Their eyes barely ripple my bodice.

Is she used?  Do the breasts function?  their eyes narrow.
Hey, baby, has anybody oiled that cunt lately?

My heart crashes to the flat pavement.  A false alarm.
The tight-lidded men of Nebraska walk stiff-leggedly on.


The following poems, “Pricksong” and “Santa” are from my book, Lady Plume: Sizzling Sex Poems. “Pricksong” is a national award-winning poem, having won a Pushcart Prize in 1976. IT was first published in Aphra, Spring 1975; then in The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, 1976; and finally in Parnassus of World Poets, 1994. Its most recent publication, in 2007, was in the anthology, Nebraska Presence, published by Backwaters Press, Omaha. 



               I am cursed
               by a large penis
               which I planted in a flower pot
               in my living room.
               When it grew, like a cactus,
               it looked thirsty and,
               being kindly at heart,
               I allayed its thirst
               with water.  It sprouted wings.
               Now it flies around the house
               and sings at me.
               Once I tried to shoot it down
               but horrified, it shriveled up
               into a ball, retracting everything
               it had ever said to me.  What
               could I do?  I didn't have the heart
               to follow through.  Now it tries to get
               in bed with me.  I am afraid.
               It is so big.  It looks so thirsty.
               It is never satisfied.  Last night
               when I pushed it back, it cried.


The following two poems are from 
Psychotic Break: Bipolar Poems


When I crooned on the bench at Bellevue
rocking Chopin in LP cradle against my lumpy grey sweater
white cords unzipped
ringed by a chorus of policemen & interns

When I sang on the bench at Bellevue
calling 'touch me' & telling all gravely that the only 
meaningful question under consideration at that 
particular moment was whether or not anyone standing 
there wanted to fuck

When I smiled at Bellevue
they feared insanity


Published in Sunbury 5, 1977


     I keep out there at that edge
     where, they say, all poetry is written
     but it scares me.  I am told
     there is a point, invisible, of no return
     & today I heard a whirring in the air
     over my left shoulder.  It will be eyesinthe
     dark next, I know it, & if you are afraid
     they glow, & have long hairs hanging from them
     & spin round & round as they wind back & forth
     around your neck.  Hello.  What is your
     name, glinting there, along the back rim
     of my blackened brain like some silver fish
     darting through fluorescent waters.  They say
     it makes no difference for you can't breathe
     anyway, & I believe, feeling as I do one
     long hair tickling its way along the back of my throat 
     smoke sliding down
     the chimney


"The Omen" was published in Snakeroots, 1973.

                    slight of build he
                    liked to have his
                    ear bitten had ni-
                    ghtmares about dogs
                    sniping at his sleigh
                    but oh! my when he-
                    d rub me down along
                    his thigh/ when he-
                    d pull me up higher
                    not letting me begin un-
                    til he felt like coming
                    in/ he was slight of
                    build and/ liked/ to 
                    have his ear bitten
“Santa” was published in New Laurel Review, 1988