Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Plath:Colonial Era Superstition


Old goatherds swear how all night long they hear
The warning whirr and burring of the bird
Who wakes with darkness and till dawn works hard
Vampiring dry of milk each great goat udder.
Moon full, moon dark, the chary dairy farmer
Dreams that his fattest cattle dwindle, fevered
By claw-cuts of the Goatsucker, alias Devil-bird,
Its eye, flashlit, a chip of ruby fire.

So fables say the Goatsucker moves, masked from men's sight
In an ebony air, on wings of witch cloth,
Well-named, ill-famed a knavish fly-by-night,
Yet it never milked any goat, nor dealt cow death
And shadows only--cave-mouth bristle beset--
Cockchafers and the wan, green luna moth.

Sylvia Plath

In many ways that was a busy and productive time for Plath; she and her husband both sold poems, Plath met other writers such as Anne Sexton, and later that year Sylvia and Ted were invited to Yaddo.

But something was missing. Plath had been unable to become pregnant and she expressed doubts about her fertility, which is probably a key to the poem.

This sonnet differs a bit from her earlier efforts using the form. The rhythms are looser. There are devices, like the close rhymes of "chary dairy" and incessant alliteration, that later became associated with her astonishing Ariel voice. This is an excellent example of her craft.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kitchen Mat

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Poetry: cummings Phenomenology

all which isn't singing is mere talking

all which isn't singing is mere talking
and all talking's talking to oneself
(whether that oneself be sought or seeking
master or disciple sheep or wolf)

gush to it as diety or devil
-toss in sobs and reasons threats and smiles
name it cruel fair or blessed evil-
it is you (ne i)nobody else

drive dumb mankind dizzy with haranguing
-you are deafened every mother's son-
all is merely talk which isn't singing
and all talking's to oneself alone

but the very song of(as mountains
feel and lovers)singing is silence

ee cummings

This comes from 73 Poems, a collection that Marion Morehouse put together after her husband died in 1962. It was one of my favorite poems when I was a teenaged phenomenologist. I am less one of those now, but still rather irritating in my choices of communicative style. To some people. And that's what really counts.

Perhaps due to having a bit of a background in classical music, I find myself concerned with the structure of things. So I like sonnets, and this is a fine example of one.

I still have my paperback copy of "73 Poems" that I got at a little bookstore on Broadway many years ago.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wood Polish

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Maybe If It Was Gift-Wrapped

The fifth one recently appeared on the shores of our less belligerent northern neighbor. Strange, that.

Then I remembered reading this a few months ago:

"The latest foot, still in its sneaker, was found last Friday on Valdes Island, a small community near Nanaimo that does not have regular ferry service and is accessible only by private boat or float plane.

RCMP say they're not sure whether foul play is involved and are trying to match any missing-person cases to the severed foot."

Not sure?


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday Plath: The Summer After High School

The Dead

Revolving in oval loops of solar speed,
Couched in cauls of clay as in holy robes,
Dead men render love and war no heed,
Lulled in the ample womb of the full-tilt globe.

No spiritual Caesars are these dead;
They want no proud paternal kingdom come;
And when at last they blunder into bed
World-wrecked, they seek only oblivion.

Rolled round with goodly loam and cradled deep,
These bone shanks will not wake immaculate
To trumpet-toppling dawn of doomstruck day :
They loll forever in colossal sleep;
Nor can God's stern, shocked angels cry them up
From their fond, final, infamous decay.

Sylvia Plath

Now that's more like it. Though this sonnet is (obviously) an early work included only in the "juvenilia" section of her Collected Poems, it's a personal favorite of mine, and I think because of its subject matter it's quite characteristic of her.

Plath didn't grow up in a devout family and church-going didn't seem to be a big part of their lives. Some of her poems betray a sensuous and mystical reverence for nature, though; Sheep in Fog and Blackberrying come to mind, in the sense that her images can somehow almost be felt against your skin as you read them. That is a sort of spiritual thing, I suppose.

Certainly she held no traditional religious beliefs. From her Unabridged Journals, entry #48:

"...I don't believe in God as a kind of father in the sky. I don't believe that the meek will inherit the earth: The meek get ignored and trampled. They decompose in the bloody soil of war, of business, of art, and they rot into the warm ground under the spring rains..."

She started those journals in July 1950 when she was seventeen years old. She continues this in the next entry:

"...I don't believe there is life after death in the literal sense. I don't believe my individual ego or spirit is unique and important enough to wake up after the burial and soar to bliss and pink clouds in heaven."


"The human mind is so limited it can only build an arbitrary heaven - and usually the physical comforts they endow it with are naively the kind that can be perceived as we humans perceive - nothing more. No: perhaps I will wake to find myself burning in hell. I think not. I think I will be snuffed out. Black is sleep: black is a fainting spell; and black is death, with no light, no waking. And how I bleed for all those on the battlefields - who thought "I am I, and I know this, that there is dying with no one knowing." I know a little how it must be - to feel the waters close above you for the third time, and to feel the internal juice sapping away, leaving you empty."

Plath's high school graduation picture from 1950.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Worth the Wait

I caught a little bit of Randi Rhodes on the A.M. dial earlier this week, and she had a male caller from the Phoenix area. He was expressing his concern that the Bush administration has not been held accountable for all the harm it has inflicted on us and the rest of the world.

He said that he himself had been convicted for a crime and that he had served out his prison sentence. He felt that Bush and Cheney should be impeached and tried for their various offenses, some of which have cost the taxpayers of this country trillions of dollars and some of which have caused deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. True enough. They should be justly punished, as he himself was, he said.

He added that it was in prison when he had started to tune in to Randi on the radio. At first Randi balked at asking him what his crime was, but curiousity got the best of her.

He said that he'd been homeless for about a year and one day he just got sick of it, so he robbed a bank.

It either that or he was going to kill himself.

He walked into a bank, approached a teller, and told them was going to rob the place. But he had to wait around for the police to get there. They finally showed up about ten minutes later and arrested him.

Side Chair

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday Plath: Hospital Poems

Face Lift

You bring me good news from the clinic,
Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white
Mummy-cloths, smiling: I'm all right.
When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist
Fed me banana gas through a frog-mask. The nausous vault
Boomed wild bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.
The mother swam up, holding a tin basin.
O I was sick.

They've changed all that. Traveling
Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,
Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,
I roll to an anteroom where a kind man
Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious
Is leaking from the finger-vents. At the count of two
Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard...
I don't know a thing.

For five days I lie in secret,
Tapped like a cask, the years draining into my pillow.
Even my best friend thinks I'm in the country.
Skin doesn't have roots, it peels away easy as paper.
When I grin, the stitches tauten. I grow backward. I'm twenty,
Broody and in long skirts on my first husband's sofa, my fingers
Buried in the lambswool of the dead poodle;
I hadn't a cat yet.

Now she's done for, the dewlapped lady
I watched settle, line by line, in my mirror ---
Old sock-face, sagged on a darning egg.
They've trapped her in some laboratory jar.
Let her die there, or whither incessantly for the next fifty years,
Nodding and rocking and fingering her thin hair.
Mother to myself, I wake swaddled in gauze,
Pink and smooth as a baby.

Sylvia Plath
February 15th 1961

Plath had a miscarriage less than two weeks before writing this, and towards the end of that month she was in the hospital to get her appendix removed.

In those days that was an "open" surgery. Laparoscopic appendectomies were not performed until 1983. She stayed in the hospital from the 26th of February to March 8th. A long time to be laying about.

This poem was followed by some others that refer to hospital things, like the wonderful Tulips and The Surgeon at 2 A.M.

In Plaster was also writen during this time, but it likely harkens back to January 1952 when Plath broke her leg skiing in Saranac Lake during a visit to her boyfriend who was hospitalized a huge tuberculosis sanitorium near there.

That's Mount Pisgah, the little ski hill in Saranac Lake. That old tuberculosis hospital is a state prison now.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Five of Cups

They said that on a bad day it would amount to something like about twelve ounces.

I would bring in a little stack of eight-ounce styrofoam cups. They'd use one at a time, and as I rounded I'd check to see how much there was. When the cup was about half-full I'd toss it away with its contents then set them up with another.

Four ounces here, four ounces there, another four after lunch, another four after Respiratory was done pounding on them.

Since that was so disgusting I stopped waiting for them to get measurably full and I just tossed them every time I wandered in. Cups begging cups.

In total surpassing the weight of a pound; certainly approaching a pound-and-a-half.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sunday Plath: Fruits of War

Bitter Strawberries

All morning in the strawberry field
They talked about the Russians.
Squatted down between the rows
We listened.
We heard the head woman say,
'Bomb them off the map.'

Horseflies buzzed, paused and stung.
And the taste of strawberries
Turned thick and sour.

Mary said slowly, 'I've got a fella
Old enough to go.
If anything should happen...'

The sky was high and blue.
Two children laughed at tag
In the tall grass,
Leaping awkward and long-legged
Across the rutted road.
The fields were full of bronzed young men
Hoeing lettuce, weeding celery.

'The draft is passed,' the woman said.
'We ought to have bombed them long ago.'
'Don't,' pleaded the little girl
With blond braids.

Her blue eyes swam with vague terror.
She added petishly, 'I can't see why
You're always talking this way...'
'Oh, stop worrying, Nelda,'
Snapped the woman sharply.
She stood up, a thin commanding figure
In faded dungarees.
Businesslike she asked us, 'How many quarts?'
She recorded the total in her notebook,
And we all turned back to picking.

Kneeling over the rows,
We reached among the leaves
With quick practiced hands,
Cupping the berry protectively before
Snapping off the stem
Between thumb and forefinger.

Sylvia Plath

When Ted Hughes compiled the collected poems of his wife Plath, he included many works that she wrote before 1956 and put these in a separate section titled "Juvenilia."
This is the first of those poems.

Plath was no cold warrior, and if she were alive today I suspect she'd be like one of those feisty Code Pink women, holding an anti-war sign and waving to people in passing cars as they honk in support.