Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Plath: Nursing Drug Books


O half moon---

Half-brain, luminosity---
Negro, masked like a white,

Your dark
Amputations crawl and appall---

Spidery, unsafe.
What glove

What leatheriness
Has protected

Me from that shadow---
The indelible buds.

Knuckles at shoulder-blades, the
Faces that

Shove into being, dragging
The lopped

Blood-caul of absences.
All night I carpenter

A space for the thing I am given,
A love

Of two wet eyes and a screech.
White spit

Of indifference!
The dark fruits revolve and fall.

The glass cracks across,
The image

Flees and aborts like dropped mercury.

Sylvia Plath

Personally I find this poem one of Plath's more difficult ones; not necessarily difficult to understand, but to just read.

Plath's daughter Frieda Hughes tells us that after Plath's death in early 1963 there was a collection of forty poems left on her desk. "Thalidomide" was the fourth, but when Plath's husband Ted Hughes put out Plath's intended Ariel and Other Poems he omitted it.

Back then:


Plath stopped work on the Ariel manuscript probably in November of 1962, but wrote more poems afterwards. After her death Ted Hughes re-edited her version of the collection before publication. Frieda straightened out her mother's intentions a few years ago by publishing a facsimile of the original.

Thalidomide was first used to treat nausea and sleep difficulties in pregnant women. Horrifyingly it became evident that the drug caused short-limb birth defects and it was quickly recalled from British markets in 1961. It was never licensed for use then here in the U.S.

It was big news in 1962 and that must have somehow caught Plath's imagination. And fears.

In the poem she seems to wonder about the dark mysteries that protected her own children, while in her womb, from the difficulties of severe physical defects.

Thalidomide has undergone a bit of a resurrection. Some of its derivatives are under consideration for treatment of multiple myeloma and leprosy. One can only hope.

As a nurse I sometimes; no, ALWAYS dispense dangerous chemicals which we call "medicines" to patients in hopes of treating various things. All medicines are poisons if taken in sufficient quantities. I double, triple, quadruple check, and I carry around a palm-pilot loaded with programs that can calculate drug interactions for up to twenty substances at a time.

Yet still I worry.


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