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.

1 comment:

wunelle said...

These poems are so enigmatic to me. Yet there is such an odd confidence to her voice, a certain self-containedness, a finality. It all floats just at the edge of my ability to grasp it, such that I'm moved but don't quite understand why. I understand being moved by music, even (maybe especially) by abstract music, but this is language used so differently from my orientation.