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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Stings (Sylvia Plath)

Bare-handed, I hand the combs.
The man in white smiles, bare-handed,
Our cheesecloth gauntlets neat and sweet,
The throats of our wrists brave lilies.
He and I

Have a thousand clean cells between us,
Eight combs of yellow cups,
And the hive itself a teacup.
White with pink flowers on it,
With excessive love I enameled it

Thinking ‘Sweetness, sweetness.’
Brood cells gray as the fossils of shells
Terrify me, they seem so old.
What am I buying, wormy mahogany?
Is there any queen at all in it?

If there is, she is old.
Her wings torn shawls, her long body
Rubbed of its plush—
Poor and bare and unqueenly and even shameful.
I stand in a column

Of winged, unmiraculous women,
I am no drudge
Though for years I have eaten dust
And dried plates with my dense hair.

And seen my strangeness evaporate,
Blue dew from dangerous skin.
Will they hate me,
These women who only scurry,
Whose news is the open cherry, the open clover?

It is almost over.
I am in control.
Here is my honey-machine,
It will work without thinking,
Opening, in spring, like an industrious virgin

To scour the creaming crests
As the moon, for its ivory powders, scours the sea.
A third person is watching.
He has nothing to do with the bee-seller or with me.
Now he is gone

In eight great bounds, a great scapegoat.
Here is his slipper, here is another,
And here the square of white linen
He wore instead of a hat.
He was sweet,

The sweat of his efforts a rain
Tugging the world to fruit.
The bees found him out, molding onto his lips like lies,
Complicating his features.

They thought death was worth it, but I
Have a self to recover, a queen.
Is she dead, is she sleeping?
Where has she been,
With her lion-red body, her wings of glass?

Now she is flying
More terrible than she ever was, red
Scar in the sky, red comet
Over the engine that killed her—
The mausoleum, the wax house.

Ode to Your Back (Gloria Vando)

The days wrap themselves around me
like worn shawls.
I am cold, always
on the point of shivering.

Nights come stunted and maimed,
undernourished children
with no place to go.

This night I dream of happy
endings: the hero, turbaned, rouged,
made up with heart-shaped lips, penciled
brows, married to the ingénue
to keep her safe because he loves
is not in love with her and

wake to find you and me
and the war-orphaned babies in London
who died from lack of touch
and my own chilled body moving,
moving in close to the heat

of your back. Your back.

The Garden (Louise Glück)

I couldn’t do it again,
I can hardly bear to look at it—

in the garden, in light rain
the young couple planting
a row of peas, as though
no one has ever done this before,
the great difficulties have never as yet
been faced and solved—

They cannot see themselves,
in fresh dirt, starting up
without perspective,
the hills behind them pale green,
clouded with flowers—

She wants to stop;
he wants to get to the end,
to stay with the thing—

Look at her, touching his cheek
to make a truce, her fingers
cool with spring rain;
in thin grass, bursts of purple crocus—

even here, even at the beginning of love,
her hand leaving his face makes
an image of departure

and they think
they are free to overlook
this sadness.

The Five Stages of Grief (Linda Pastan)

The night I lost you
someone pointed me towards
the Five Stages of Grief.
Go that way, they said,
it’s easy, like learning to climb
stairs after the amputation.
And so I climbed.
Denial was first.
I sat down at breakfast
carefully setting the table
for two. I passed you the toast—
you sat there. I passed
you the paper—you hid
behind it.
Anger seemed more familiar.
I burned the toast, snatched
the paper and read the headlines myself.
But they mentioned your departure,
and so I moved on to
Bargaining. What could I exchange
for you? The silence
after storms? My typing fingers?
Before I could decide, Depression
came puffing up, a poor relation
its suitcase tied together
with string. In the suitcase
were bandages for the eyes
and bottles of sleep. I slid
all the way down the stairs
feeling nothing.
And all the time Hope
flashed on and off
in defective neon.
Hope was my uncle’s middle name,
he died of it. After a year I am still climbing,
though my feet slip
on your stone face.
The treeline
has long since disappeared;
green in a color
I have forgotten.
But now I see what I am climbing
towards: Acceptance,
written in capital letters,
a special headline:
its name in lights.
I struggle on,
waving and shouting.
Below, my whole life spreads its surf,
all the landscapes I’ve ever known
or dreamed of. Below
a fish jumps: the pulse
in your neck.
Acceptance. I finally
reach it.
But something is wrong.
Grief is a circular staircase.
I have lost you.

Origins and History of Consciousness (Adrienne Rich)


Night-life. Letters, journals, bourbon
sloshed in the glass. Poems crucified on the wall,
dissected, their bird-wings severed
like trophies. No one lives in this room
without living through some kind of crisis.

No one lives in this room
without confronting the whiteness of the wall
behind the poems, planks of books,
photographs of dead heroines.
Without contemplating last and late
the true nature of poetry. The drive
to connect. The dream of a common language.

Thinking of lovers, their bind faith, their
experienced crucifixions,
my envy is not simple. I have dreamed of going to bed
as walking into clear water ringed by a snowy wood
white as cold sheets, thinking, I’ll freeze in there.
My bare feet are numbed already by the snow
but the water
is mild, I sink and float
like a warm amphibious animal
that has broken the net, has run
through fields of snow leaving no print;
this water washes off the scent—
You are clear now
of the hunter, the trapper
the wardens of the mind—

yet the warm animal dreams on
of another animal
swimming under the snow-flecked surface of the pool,
and wakes, and sleeps again.

No one sleeps in this room without
the dream of a common language.


It was simple to meet you, simple to take your eyes
into mine, saying: these are eyes I have known
from the first…. It was simple to touch you
against the hacked background, the grain of what we
had been, the choices, years…. It was even simple
to take each other’s lives in our hands, as bodies.

What is not simple: to wake from drowning
from where the ocean beat inside us like an afterbirth
into this common, acute particularity
these two selves who walked half a lifetime untouching—
to wake to something deceptively simple: a glass
sweated with dew, a ring of the telephone, a scream
of someone beaten up far down in the street
causing each of us to listen to her own inward scream

knowing the mind of the mugger and the mugged
as any woman must who stands to survive this city,
this century, this life…
each of us having loved the flesh in its clenched or loosened beauty
better than trees or music (yet loving those too
as if they were flesh—and they are—but the flesh
of beings unfathomed as yet in our roughly literal life).


It’s simple to wake from sleep with a stranger,
dress, go out, drink coffee,
enter a life again. It isn’t simple
to wake from sleep into the neighborhood
of one neither strange nor familiar
whom we have chosen to trust. Trusting, untrusting,
we lowered ourselves into this, let ourselves
downward hand over hand as on a rope that quivered
over the unsearched…. We did this. Conceived
of each other, conceived each other in a darkness
which I remember as drenched in light.
I want to call this, life.

But I can’t call it life until we start to move
beyond this secret circle of fire
where our bodies are giant shadows flung on a wall
where the night becomes our inner darkness, and sleeps
like a dumb beast, head on her paws, in the corner.

The Savant of Sunflowers, The Apprentice of Roses (Diane Ackerman)

Something in a rose
knows to spread its roots
into a stable base,
how to shimmy up a trellis,
graft onto reliable stock,
open rich with scent,
and slowly unfold another
flush of tawny bloom.

While you’re away,
I miss the parts of me
that regrow with you:

the mischief elf, the sensual self,
the sonneteering ghost
who rides the flanks of night,
breathing time, sweating stars,
while memories swim
like constellations overhead.

I miss the serpentine Eve
who rarely doses, the attaché
that sometimes imposes,
all the sprites who sprint
through the high supposes,
the patient saint who aspires
to a heaven which encloses,
and, especially, the touched one
committed to the asylum
and penitentiary of roses.

Two (Martha Zweig)

Often they both could swear
they overhear their
deaths converse. But which is which?
And they can never make out the exact words.

Months seem to go by.
They hang new yellow cups on the
cupboard hooks. The dreaming
dog scrapes in the upstairs hall and they

know what that noise is. But
then the deaths resume their talk, talk,
just aside, benignly, one or the
other voice exactly like the other.

Whenever she thinks that now she will
leave him she must always also
imagine her death leaving his death,
how one will turn out

to be hers, it will get up
loosely and excuse itself from the other
one, which will be his. He
knows this is why she stays.

Obesity (Kathleen Peirce)

Reception is a gesture of the will
opening, one peach rose widening the light, or
rain finally taking the abandoned room,
the walls newly alive with water, and the ceiling
raining. It must have been happening a long time;
the random, jewel-colored bottles on the floor
swallowing the intermittent drops to a point approaching fullness,
then over full, and every surface here is changed, bigger,
touched too much by something wonderful
and ruinous. She would hardly tell you how bakery cakes call to her,
but look; the tiniest prettiest woman, a decoration
for a cake, was saved inside the cupboard by the sink. One arm
is raised. The smallest spider imaginable has linked her as an object
full of things, a strand at each hinge: shoulder,
elbow, wrist, and mouth, obedient to hunger, and the room falling in.