Marvin Bell


I don’t see my friends at the Syracuse airport.
Then the page comes. I’m on my own. I ask a cabbie,
“How much to Ithaca?” It’s years ago and thirty bucks.
He’s a chain smoker and gulps six-packs of soda
to hose the burning in his throat. When he finds out
I’m a book teacher, he asks me to explain a song.
It’s country. The twangy voice is crooning “too bad”
to a pregnant girlfriend he deserted, and my cabbie
wants to know, me being a professor and all, how
can he do it, abandon the girl and just go? I don’t know.
I say, It’s a song, and we should eat at the next diner.
I buy two burgers with fries, and we’re off again
for Cornell. I’m booked to speak amid gray statuary.
Someone will tell me years later they were fakes.
I don’t tamper with his fury at the singer, his morality’s
naked, and he writhes to get comfortable in the car,
etched by the rough fabric of the seat, and then
he hammers the wheel. It’s not going to be a secret
that he’s angry at some stranger who behaved badly.
“Woody Guthrie the guy’s not,” he says, “no conscience.”

Marvin Bell’s current book, Mars Being Red, has been named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Awards. Retired from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches for the low-residency MFA program based in Oregon at Pacific University. For the past twenty-four years, he has lived a part of each year in Port Townsend, Washington



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