My Life with Sylvia Plath Or How to Bake a Cake in Twenty-Three Years

click, click, click.
click, click…

I start the gas oven, and set it
to pre-heat. 350 degrees. Hot
enough to bake. The electric mixer,
on the counter behind me, whirring,
stirring the ingredients for spiced cake.

* * *

When I was nineteen, I told the boy I loved,
of my admiration, for the poetry of
Sylvia Plath. He snickered. And pulled
a book, from the cluttered shelves beside him,
flipping through pages, he took a sip of his beer,
and presented me with her death picture.

And there she was, stuffed into an oven,
head first, rumpled suit, feet shod in
high heeled sandals, sticking, stiffly
out behind her.

She wore white gloves.
Always a lady, on any occasion.
My grandmother would have been proud.

“That is where the poetry of Sylvia Plath leads you,”
he told me with a grin.

He was dark haired, this boy, and even darker eyed,
with a mouth, slightly too small for his face.
It was the kind of mouth, capable of only producing a half smile,
giving him an appearance of always having kept the
best part of the joke to himself.
He spoke often of marriage, but only when I was angry
with him, and always with that half smile.

It was not a witty age for me. Had it been,
perhaps, I would have replied,
“No, that’s where marrying a narcissist leads you.”

* * *

I smear butter into a Bundt shaped pan.
Pushing it greasily, into each crevice,
to be certain the cake doesn’t stick.
The electric mixer is still thumping its rhythm
next to me. I worry it has kept this beat,
for far too long.

* * *

When I was twenty-eight, my book club read the Bell Jar.
I hosted the discussion group, in my second floor apartment.
It was an odd, cavernous place, complete with twisting hallways,
and a large living room of windows, sat squarely behind the kitchen.
The theme was, “books we had loved in our younger years.”
It had been my month to choose. I had made a kiwi mousse,
spooning it carefully into my thrift store, champagne flutes.

Twenty or so women gathered in my threadbare home,
to discuss the issue of being woman, of being misunderstood.
We ate and drank and spoke rapidly into the late evening.

Somewhere, there is a picture of me with my friend Julia,
sitting on the stained kitchen linoleum, along opposite sides
of an open oven door. The oven was electric.

It was, still, not a witty age for me.
But, I was rather cheeky.

* * *

I pour brown batter into the oil-prepared pan,
scraping my spatula down the sides, of my silver
mixing bowl, for fear of wasting even an ounce.

It oozes, spreading itself out, around the grooved
loop of the Bundt dish. I open the oven door,
and hesitate, just for a moment, unbaked cake,
resting on a bare forearm.

* * *

I am caught up in the idea, of reading the poetry of Sylvia Plath,
as the house fills with the scent of baking spiced cake.
Caught up in the idea, of being headfirst in that oven.
My gas oven. My late afternoon kitchen.

I am prone to claustrophobia.
I am never content, for very long, in any
uncomfortable position.
I have not the stomach, for unpleasant odors.
How long does asphyxiation take?

I haven’t much time to spare.
The dog needs to be walked.
There is laundry to fold.
I have a poem in my head, nagging to be written.
Sounding it’s cadence, picking out words,

“When I was nineteen. When I was nineteen.
When I was nineteen, I told the boy I loved,
of admiration for the poetry of Sylvia Plath…”

At forty-two, I am still not at a witty age.
Nor, am I cheeky.

However, I never did marry the narcissist,
the boy with the too small mouth.

So, into the oven I shove the cake,
instead of my head,
and gently close the door.


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