Alcestis on the Poetry Circuit

(In Memoriam Marina Tsvetayeva, Anna Wickham, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare's sister, etc., etc.)

The best slave
does not need to be beaten.
She beats herself.
Not with a leather whip,
or with stick or twigs,
not with a blackjack
or a billyclub,
but with the fine whip
of her own tongue
and the subtle beating
of her mind
against her mind.
For who can hate her half so well
as she hates herself?
and who can match the finesse
of her self-abuse?
Years of training
are required for this.
Twenty years
of subtle self-indulgence,
until the subject
thinks herself a queen
and yet a beggar—
both at the same time.
She must doubt herself
in everything but love.
She must choose passionately
and badly.
She must feel lost as a dog
without her master.
She must refer all moral questions
to her mirror.
She must fall in love with a cossack
or a poet.
She must never go out of the house
unless veiled in paint.
She must wear tight shoes
so she always remembers her bondage.
She must never forget
she is rooted in the ground.
Though she is quick to learn
and admittedly clever,
her natural doubt of herself
should make her so weak
that she dabbles brilliantly
in half a dozen talents
and thus embellishes
but does not change
our life.
If she’s an artist
and comes close to genius,
the very fact of her gift
should cause her such pain
that she will take her own life
rather than best us.
and after she dies, we will cry
and make her a saint.
Liked or faved by...
Other works by Erica Jong...