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Sylvia plath

Sylvia Plath

POEMS
FOLLOWERS
49

Here in this valley of discrete academies
We have not mountains, but mounts, truncated hillocks
To the Adirondacks, to northern Monadnock,
Themselves mere rocky hillocks to an Everest.
Still, they’re out best mustering of height: by
Comparison with the sunnken silver—grizzled
Back of the Connecticut, the river—level
Flats of Hadley farms, they’re lofty enough
Elevations to be called something more than hills.
Green, wholly green, they stand their knobby spine
Against our sky: they are what we look southward to
Up Pleasant Street at Main. Poising their shapes
Between the snuff and red tar—paper apartments,
They mound a summer coolness in our view.

To people who live in the bottom of valleys
A rise in the landscape, hummock or hogback, looks
To be meant for climbing. A peculiar logic
In going up for the coming down if the post
We start at’s the same post we finish by,
But it’s the clear conversion at the top can hold
Us to the oblique road, in spite of a fitful
Wish for even ground, and it’s the last cliff
Ledge will dislodge out cramped concept of space, unwall
Horizons beyond vision, spill vision
After the horizons, stretching the narrowed eye
To full capacity. We climb to hopes
Of such seeing up the leaf—shuttered escarpments,
Blindered by green, under a green—grained sky

Into the blue. Tops define themselves as places
Where nothing higher’s to be looked to. Downward looks
Follow the black arrow—backs of swifts on their track
Of the air eddies’ loop and arc though air’s at rest
To us, since we see no leaf edge stir high
Here on a mount overlaid with leaves. The paint—peeled
Hundred—year—old hotel sustains its ramshackle
Four—way veranda, view—keeping above
The fallen timbers of its once remarkable
Funicular railway, witness to gone
Time, and to graces gone with the time. A state view—
Keeper collects half—dollars for the slopes
Of state scenery, sells soda, shows off viewpoints.
A ruffy skylight oaints the gray oxbow

And paints the river’s pale circumfluent stillness.
As roses broach their carmine in a mirror. Flux
Of the desultory currents ——all that unique
Stripple of shifting wave—tips is ironed out, lost
In the simplified orderings of sky—
Lorded perspectives. Maplike, the far fields are ruled
By correct green lines and no seedy free—for—all
Of asparagus heads. Cars run their suave
Colored beads on the strung roads, and the people stroll
Straightforwardly across the springing green.
All’s peace and discipline down there. Till lately we
Lived under the shadow of hot rooftops
And never saw how coolly we might move. For once
A high hush quietens the crickets’ cry.

A garden of mouthings. Purple, scarlet-speckled, black
The great corollas dilate, peeling back their silks.
Their musk encroaches, circle after circle,
A well of scents almost too dense to breathe in.
Hieratical in your frock coat, maestro of the bees,
You move among the many-breasted hives,

My heart under your foot, sister of a stone.

Trumpet-throats open to the beaks of birds.
The Golden Rain Tree drips its powders down.
In these little boudoirs streaked with orange and red
The anthers nod their heads, potent as kings
To father dynasties. The air is rich.
Here is a queenship no mother can contest—-

A fruit that’s death to taste: dark flesh, dark parings.

In burrows narrow as a finger, solitary bees
Keep house among the grasses. Kneeling down
I set my eyes to a hole-mouth and meet an eye
Round, green, disconsolate as a tear.
Father, bridegroom, in this Easter egg
Under the coronal of sugar roses

The queen bee marries the winter of your year.

The figs on the fig tree in the yard are green;
Green, also, the grapes on the green vine
Shading the brickred porch tiles.
The money’s run out.

How nature, sensing this, compounds her bitters.
Ungifted, ungrieved, our leavetaking.
The sun shines on unripe corn.
Cats play in the stalks.

Retrospect shall not often such penury—
Sun’s brass, the moon’s steely patinas,
The leaden slag of the world—
But always expose

The scraggy rock spit shielding the town’s blue bay
Against which the brunt of outer sea
Beats, is brutal endlessly.
Gull—fouled, a stone hut

Bares its low lintel to corroding weathers:
Across the jut of ochreous rock
Goats shamble, morose, rank—haired,
To lick the sea—salt.

On storm—struck deck, wind sirens caterwaul;
With each tilt, shock and shudder, our blunt ship
Cleaves forward into fury; dark as anger,
Waves wallop, assaulting the stubborn hull.
Flayed by spray, we take the challenge up,
Grip the rail, squint ahead, and wonder how much longer

Such force can last; but beyond, the neutral view
Shows, rank on rank, the hungry seas advancing.
Below, rocked havoc—sick, voyagers lie
Retching in bright orange basins; a refugee
Sprawls, hunched in black, among baggage, wincing
Under the strict mask of his agony.

Far from the sweet stench of that perilous air
In which our comrades are betrayed, we freeze
And marvel at the smashing nonchalance
Of nature: what better way to test taut fiber
Than against this onslaught, these casual blasts of ice
That wrestle with us like angels; the mere chance

Of making harbor through this racketing flux
Taunts us to valor. Blue sailors sang that our journey
Would be full of sun, white gulls, and water drenched
With radiance, peacock—colored; instead, bleak rocks
Jutted early to mark our going, while sky
Curded over with clouds and chalk cliffs blanched

In sullen light of the inauspicious day.
Now, free, by hazard’s quirk, from the common ill
Knocking our brothers down, we strike a stance
Most mock—heroic, to cloak our waking awe
At this rare rumpus which no man can control:
Meek and proud both fall; stark violence

Lays all walls waste; private estates are torn,
Ransacked in the public eye. We forsake
Our lone luck now, compelled by bond, by blood,
To keep some unsaid pact; perhaps concern
Is helpless here, quite extra, yet we must make
The gesture, bend and hold the prone man’s head.

And so we sail toward cities, streets and homes
Of other men, where statues celebrate
Brave acts played out in peace, in war; all dangers
End: green shores appear; we assume our names,
Our luggage, as docks halt our brief epic; no debt
Survives arrival; we walk the plank with strangers.

Always in the middle of a kiss
Came the profane stimulus to cough;
Always from teh pulpit during service
Leaned the devil prompting you to laugh.

Behind mock—ceremony of your grief
Lurked the burlesque instinct of the ham;
You never altered your amused belief
That life was a mere monumental sham.

From the comic accident of birth
To the final grotesque joke of death
Your malady of sacrilegious mirth
Spread gay contagion with each clever breath.

Now you must play the straight man for a term
And tolerate the humor of the worm.

With white frost gone
And all green dreams not worth much,
After a lean day’s work
Time comes round for that foul slut:
Mere bruit of her takes our street
Until every man,
Red, pale or dark,
Veers to her slouch.

Mark, I cry, that mouth
Made to do violence on,
That seamed face
Askew with blotch, dint, scar
Struck by each dour year.
Walks there not some such one man
As can spare breath
To patch with brand of love this rank grimace
Which out from black tarn, ditch and cup
Into my most chaste own eyes
Looks up.

Midnight in the mid-Atlantic. On deck.
Wrapped up in themselves as in thick veiling
And mute as mannequins in a dress shop,
Some few passangers keep track
Of the old star-map on the ceiling.
Tiny and far, a single ship

Lit like a two-tiered wedding cake
Carries its candles slowly off.
Now there is nothing much to look at.
Still nobody will move or speak—-
The bingo players, the players at love
On a square no bigger than a carpet

Are hustled over the crests and troughs,
Each stalled in his particular minute
And castled in it like a king.
Small drops spot their coats, their gloves:
They fly too fast to feel the wet.
Anything can happen where they are going.

The untidy lady revivalist
For whom the good Lord provides (He gave
Her a pocketbook, a pearl hatpin
And seven winter coats last August)
Prays under her breath that she may save
The art students in West Berlin.

The astrologer at her elbow (a Leo)
Picked his trip-date by the stars.
The is gratified by the absence of icecakes.
He’ll be rich in a year (and he should know)
Selling the Welsh and English mothers
Nativities at two and six.

And the white-haired jeweler from Denmark is carving
A perfectly faceted wife to wait
On him hand and foot, quiet as a diamond.
Moony balloons, tied by a string
To their owner’ wrists, the light dreams float
To be let loose at news of land.

All day she plays at chess with the bones of the world:
Favored (while suddenly the rains begin
Beyond the window) she lies on cushions curled
And nibbles an occasional bonbon of sin.

Prim, pink—breasted, feminine, she nurses
Chocolate fancies in rose—papered rooms
Where polished higboys whisper creaking curses
And hothouse roses shed immortal blooms.

The garnets on her fingers twinkle quick
And blood reflects across the manuscript;
She muses on the odor, sweet and sick,
Of festering gardenias in a crypt,

And lost in subtle metaphor, retreats
From gray child faces crying in the streets.

I came before the water '€”-
Colorists came to get the
Good of the Cape light that scours
Sand grit to sided crystal
And buffs and sleeks the blunt hulls
Of the three fishing smacks beached
On the bank of the river’s

Backtracking tail. I’d come for
Free fish-bait: the blue mussels
Clumped like bulbs at the grassroot
Margin of the tidal pools.
Dawn tide stood dead low. I smelt
Mud stench, shell guts, gulls’ leavings;
Heard a queer crusty scrabble

Cease, and I neared the silenced
Edge of a cratered pool-bed.
The mussels hung dull blue and
Conspicuous, yet it seemed
A sly world’s hinges had swung
Shut against me. All held still.
Though I counted scant seconds,

Enough ages lapsed to win
Confidence of safe-conduct
In the wary other world
Eyeing me. Grass put forth claws,
Small mud knobs, nudged from under,
Displaced their domes as tiny
Knights might doff their casques. The crabs

Inched from their pygmy burrows
And from the trench-dug mud, all Camouflaged in mottled mail
Of browns and greens. Each wore one
Claw swollen to a shield large
As itself’€”no fiddler’s arm
Grown Gargantuan by trade,

But grown grimly, and grimly
Borne, for a use beyond my
Guessing of it. Sibilant
Mass-motived hordes, they sidled
Out in a converging stream
Toward the pool-mouth, perhaps to
Meet the thin and sluggish thread

Of sea retracing its tide–
Way up the river-basin.
Or to avoid me. They moved
Obliquely with a dry-wet
Sound, with a glittery wisp
And trickle. Could they feel mud
Pleasurable under claws

As I could between bare toes?
That question ended it’€”I
Stood shut out, for once, for all,
Puzzling the passage of their
Absolutely alien
Order as I might puzzle
At the clear tail of Halley’s

Comet coolly giving my
Orbit the go-by, made known
By a family name it
Knew nothing of. So the crabs
Went about their business, which
Wasn’t fiddling, and I filled
A big handkerchief with blue

Mussels. From what the crabs saw,
If they could see, I was one
Two-legged mussel-picker.
High on the airy thatching
Of the dense grasses I found
The husk of a fiddler-crab,
Intact, strangely strayed above

His world of mud’€”green color
And innards bleached out blown off
Somewhere by much sun and wind;
There was no telling if he’d
Died recluse of suicide
Or headstrong Columbus crab.
The crab-face, etched and set there,

Grimaced as skulls grimace: it
Had an Oriental look,
A samurai death mask done
On a tiger tooth, less for
Art’s sake than God’s. Far from sea '€”-
Where red-freckled crab-backs, claws
And whole crabs, dead, their soggy

Bellies pallid and upturned,
Perform their shambling waltzes
On the waves’ dissolving turn
And return, losing themselves
Bit by bit to their friendly
Element’€”this relic saved
Face, to face the bald-faced sun.

Who are these people at the bridge to meet me?  They are the villagers ——
The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees.
In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection,
And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me?
They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.

I am nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?
Yes, here is the secretary of bees with her white shop smock,
Buttoning the cuffs at my wrists and the slit from my neck to my knees.
Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice.
They will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.

Which is the rector now, is it that man in black?
Which is the midwife, is that her blue coat?
Everybody is nodding a square black head, they are knights in visors,
Breastplates of cheesecloth knotted under the armpits.

Their smiles and their voces are changing. I am led through a beanfield.

Strips of tinfoil winking like people,
Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers,
Creamy bean flowers with black eyes and leaves like bored hearts.
Is it blood clots the tendrils are dragging up that string?
No, no, it is scarlet flowers that will one day be edible.

Now they are giving me a fashionable white straw Italian hat
And a black veil that molds to my face, they are making me one of them.
They are leading me to the shorn grove, the circle of hives.
Is it the hawthorn that smells so sick?
The barren body of hawthon, etherizing its children.

Is it some operation that is taking place?
It is the surgeon my neighbors are waiting for,
This apparition in a green helmet,
Shining gloves and white suit.
Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know?

I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me
With its yellow purses, its spiky armory.
I could not run without having to run forever.
The white hive is snug as a virgin,
Sealing off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.

Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove.
The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything.
Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics.
If I stand very still, they will think I am cow—parsley,
A gullible head untouched by their animosity,

Not even nodding, a personage in a hedgerow.
The villagers open the chambers, they are hunting the queen.
Is she hiding, is she eating honey?  She is very clever.
She is old, old, old, she must live another year, and she knows it.
While in their fingerjoint cells the new virgins

Dream of a duel they will win inevitably,
A curtain of wax dividing them from the bride flight,
The upflight of the murderess into a heaven that loves her.
The villagers are moving the virgins, there will be no killing.
The old queen does not show herself, is she so ungrateful?

I am exhausted, I am exhausted ——
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch.
The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands.
Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished, why am I cold.

Thou shalt have an everlasting
Monday and stand in the moon.

The moon’s man stands in his shell,
Bent under a bundle
Of sticks. The light falls chalk and cold
Upon our bedspread.
His teeth are chattering among the leprous
Peaks and craters of those extinct volcanoes.

He also against black frost
Would pick sticks, would not rest
Until his own lit room outshone
Sunday’s ghost of sun;
Now works his hell of Mondays in the moon’s ball,
Fireless, seven chill seas chained to his ankle.

Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine,
Coy paper strips for doors
Stage curtains, a widow’s frizz.
And I, love, am a pathological liar,
And my child look at her, face down on the floor,
Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear
Why she is schizophrenic,
Her face is red and white, a panic,
You have stuck her kittens outside your window
In a sort of cement well
Where they crap and puke and cry and she can’t hear.
You say you can’t stand her,
The bastard’s a girl.
You who have blown your tubes like a bad radio
Clear of voices and history, the staticky
Noise of the new.
You say I should drown the kittens. Their smell!
You say I should drown my girl.
She’ll cut her throat at ten if she’s mad at two.
The baby smiles, fat snail,
From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum.
You could eat him. He’s a boy.
You say your husband is just no good to you.
His Jew—Mama guards his sweet sex like a pearl.
You have one baby, I have two.
I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair.
I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair.
We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.

Meanwhile there’s a stink of fat and baby crap.
I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.
The smog of cooking, the smog of hell
Floats our heads, two venemous opposites,
Our bones, our hair.
I call you Orphan, orphan. You are ill.
The sun gives you ulcers, the wind gives you T.B.
Once you were beautiful.
In New York, in Hollywood, the men said: “Through?
Gee baby, you are rare.”
You acted, acted for the thrill.
The impotent husband slumps out for a coffee.
I try to keep him in,
An old pole for the lightning,
The acid baths, the skyfuls off of you.
He lumps it down the plastic cobbled hill,
Flogged trolley. The sparks are blue.
The blue sparks spill,
Splitting like quartz into a million bits.

O jewel! O valuable!
That night the moon
Dragged its blood bag, sick
Animal
Up over the harbor lights.
And then grew normal,
Hard and apart and white.
The scale—sheen on the sand scared me to death.
We kept picking up handfuls, loving it,
Working it like dough, a mulatto body,
The silk grits.
A dog picked up your doggy husband. He went on.

Now I am silent, hate
Up to my neck,
Thick, thick.
I do not speak.
I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,
I am packing the babies,
I am packing the sick cats.
O vase of acid,
It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.
He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate
That opens to the sea
Where it drives in, white and black,
Then spews it back.
Every day you fill him with soul—stuff, like a pitcher.
You are so exhausted.
Your voice my ear—ring,
Flapping and sucking, blood—loving bat.
That is that. That is that.
You peer from the door,
Sad hag. “Every woman’s a whore.
I can’t communicate.”

I see your cute decor
Close on you like the fist of a baby
Or an anemone, that sea
Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
I am still raw.
I say I may be back.
You know what lies are for.

Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.