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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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Manifesto

 

One

 

My mother is in the garden putting her hands in the dirt.                                      She kneels, as if in prayer, and sifts the soil through her fingers,                                                                                              ohh-ing and ahh-ing at its richness.

 

“Your soil is amazing, it’s so, so dark…” my Mother stammers out, “I’ve never     seen untended soil so healthy”

 

Hovering near her shoulder, I strain to see what is so magnificent, so       undeniably perfect about the ground behind my small city house.                                      I admit, I haven’t a clue.                                                                                  My mother turns to look at me, hands still deep in the earth, her face                                                                          a maze of solemn craziness. And just like that, I realize

 

everything. Every moment of every struggle for her approval, the years of pushing myself to be something,              to achieve something,  to win her over with my successes; I could have saved myself the heartache years ago.                                           All I ever needed to do was buy a little house on a side street with a thirteen by thirteen foot patch of unused dirt out back. She is proud of this, of dirt.

 

My dirt.

 

Two

 

The elephant in the room is usually the last to know she is an elephant.

 

Until the inevitable happens,         until she begins to mature and evolve into her true form.               A slight growth of trunk,         a slackening of skin becomes an obvious wrinkle,   her step becomes heavier,     her eyes sad,       followed by a shift into occupying the third person narrative of her own life.

 

The elephant begins this narration as defense mechanism, only to wake up one morning as a supporting character, that exists solely to further the storyline along,           to fill

 

in the details necessary to the reader,

partaking in less action with each turn of page,

serving merely as an agent to bring the lead characters into fresh light,                   to reveal

 

their motives and thoughts,

 

the elephant’s job is to propel these characters through the story,

bring them full speed to the height and thrill of the story.

 

Alas, the elephant is never there for the climax.

A third person narrator, she steps back, slips among the shadows

 

and executes a bow unseen by the reader.

 

Three

I peddle my bicycle beside a river.

I peddle my legs numb,

peddle my mind numb,

peddle myself into wind,

peddle myself into distraction.

 

A migration of Canada geese pack the pathway, I navigate through them, listen to them curse me,       wings pounding a cadence,                                           I appreciate

 

their disgust at my presence, pushing against me.

My life becomes a motion picture, reel after reel, each frame an empty bicycle, clicking endlessly through projector,                     spliced and taped,                         spliced and taped,

until the river ends or the bicycle drops.

The sweet thud of a body under a bumper,

the street wet and sticking,

a puddle of film bleeding red as my boots,

red as my scarf.

 

 

 

I peddle my bicycle beside a river.

I peddle my spine numb,

peddle my words numb,

peddle myself into wind,

peddle myself into distraction.

 

 

My bicycle,

my peddles,

my moveable manifesto.

 

four

An elephant never forgets, what has she to remember?

 

 

Five

 

My mother is in the garden putting her hands in the dirt.

Pulling plants from plastic pots, she gently places them in the ground,       patting that

deep,   rich soil, solidly around their roots. She plants begonias, azaleas, a holly bush, the garden taking new shape around her,                         burying her hands wrist deep in the earth,                               she deposits bulbs of tulips and gladiolas for next year.

 

I watch from the window, fill the kettle and light the stove,                                                       grind coffee beans and rinse the French press. I set out cups and saucers,         the sugar bowl and cream, then tap the window.

 

My mother stands, brushes dirt from her knees.

My dirt.

                           My dirt.

 

I swallow hard,

swallow the bitterness I feel rising in my throat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Proust is my co-pilot #37

You had this Grandfather; he had this gun.

 

Somewhere, in the between, you divorced your own promiscuous mind, ending that meddlesome marriage of thought and body.                                  You began   by inviting Lamia into your head, into your patterns. She slithered and shifted her weight, placing her eyes on the bureau next to your clock.                                                You feigned sleep,                                 she wailed into her blindness, a mournful duet, coercing the dead, coaxing them, biding   the night, knowing the most cunning of hunter makes little comparison of one kill to another, ascertaining the wonder of each lies solely in the amorality of indifference.

 

You had this Grandfather; he had this taste                                                                                                         for hemlock; he had this commitment to                                                                                                              hari-kari.

 

A theatre on a Monday afternoon is a solitary spot, you sit,         back against wall, listening to the hum and clack of the projector motor, the click of film over sprocket, watching light stream a ray of dust, just above you, setting loose your wayward thoughts, let them dally here and there.                                            A woman of obesity wedges herself into a seat along the aisle, lifting and spreading a curtain of alabaster hair about her shoulders, she releases a string of conversation into the room.                                She                        is shushed from a dark corner,           where a hacking crackles,         into a cough, dry and angry. Pictures flicker on screen, shape changing width and depth, story pours itself an identity, forgets its name, stopping midsentence

 

You had this Grandfather; he had this duty; he                                                                                  had this seppuku.

 

Childhood is nothing more than a trap;
it means to hurt when swallowed.

 

 

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Proust is my co-pilot #37

You had this Grandfather; he had this gun.

Somewhere, in the between, you divorced your own mind, ending that meddlesome marriage of thought and body.                                          You began, by inviting Lamia into your head. Into your patterns, she slithered and shifted her weight, placing her eyes on the bureau next to your clock. You feigned sleep, she wailed into her blindness, a mournful duet, coercing the dead, coaxing them, biding the night.

A theatre on a Monday afternoon is a solitary spot, you sit, back against wall,

listening to the hum and clack of the projector motor, the click of film over sprocket, watching light stream a ray of dust, just above you, setting loose you promiscuous mind, let it dally here and there.

You had this Grandfather; he had this taste for hemlock; he had this                                                       commitment to hari-kari.

A woman with obesity wedges herself into a seat along the aisle, lifting and spreading a curtain of alabaster hair about her shoulders, she releases a string of conversation into the room. She is shushed from a dark corner, where a hacking crackles into a cough, dry and angry. Pictures flicker on screen, shape changing width and depth, story pours itself an identity, forgets its name, stopping midsentence

You had this Grandfather; he had this duty, this seppuku.

And childhood is nothing more than a trap;                                                                         it means to hurt when swallowed.

 

 

 

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Proust is my Co-Pilot #26

 

Clothes pins clip the scruff of your neck shut, two loose flaps, pinched tightly, your skin itches, breathing becomes an exercise                       (in tolerance)                                   urging you to propel                                     yourself

into traffic, just to see what happens next.          Cars stop.     Horns beep.     Your feet find the curb.

How is it that your legs keep this motion? Left, right, left.

Tramping sidewalks, chafe of thigh across thigh. Left, right, left.

You are blank; dulled nearly a week.       Empty as the wind, but this your persistent movement, fluidity of hip, a rhythm, a rhythm, left, right, left. Walking is your only constant.                                                                                                                    Left, right, left.

That, and your embarrassment for the poet, who says he writes because he has to, because it’s like breathing for him. But you have always felt

ill-at-ease, in the presence of fools.

You find the bridge where you left it, spanning with spiders and dancing a river, iron limbs welded with web, a gummy lacework, caught in your fingers.

Fat spiders scatter

in                                                                                                                                            several

directions.

At once.

Silly as the poet: belching his every thought.

The park is a wasteland, littered with homelessness; a muggy apathy of flesh and flies. A shoeless man, sitting atop a picnic table, red baseball cap, soiled dress shirt, sings softly to himself.

“Froggie went a courtin’, and he did ride, uh-huh, uh-huh

Froggie went a courtin’, and he did ride.

With a sword and a pistol by his side, uh-huh…”

The grass slips its long, wet fingers, greenly into your Mary Jane’s.                                                                                                                                                                                                           Left, right, left.

 

 

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Proust is my Co-Pilot #44

A sting of conscience, it is a week of scheduling death. The vines are to be poisoned Tuesday morning; the cat is to be gassed Friday afternoon. I am full of questions, needling better reasons than human nature provides, yet, reasoning seems a shallow endeavor, when one is charting calendars, marking time and place, reconciling oneself to the role of killer.                       I have had,

always,                      this fondness for strays and weeds.

It is seemingly, unjust, to destroy something so willing to bloom a fresh purple each morning, inching and twisting its way through the links of a rusting fence, around the neck of a leaning shovel, creeping across drought dried dust, despite the disdain heaped upon it, perhaps that is why it wraps its skinny arms around every beloved plant, circling them from earth up, and back again, one precious seedling at a time, strangling the teacher’s favorite, the mother’s pet.

And the pet, is anything but, silky haired and pristine white, hiding in cupboards and under bed frames, mewing spit of voice, half hostility, half docility; yes, the cat solicits death. With a gluttonous disdain for life, the beast does as she pleases, forgoing solace in lieu of animosity, one has to admire her tenacity, her solidity.

Yet, a weed is a weed, whether vine or cat, choices are given, a wilted leaf beneath a pinked nose, one can only tell her,

“Misery is a misery.”

 

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Proust is my Co-Pilot, #17

A brain spins in a stagnant room, sick with sweat. The city curls itself into a fat ball, nauseous on its own concrete. At the butcher’s booth, in the back of the market, an Amish man sells moldy cheese, thick yellow bricks, turned sideways to hide green fur, he smiles rotten teeth at me, lowering his price.         The smell of warm produce catches in my throat, sticks there drily, itching, scratching breath, my fingers in bins, of tomatoes, over ripened, rubber skinned apples, soft bleeding berries.

The air crawls on my skin, an infestation of flies, raising the scars
of memory, a monotony of course, thinned out by age.

The sidewalk is a hypocrite; A Pharisee of insincerity. I’ve little excuse for my animosity, no basis for my judgment, except that I have become slovenly, unclean of mind, full of bad intention.

An old lady taps my ankle, with her cane, as we stand at the corner of third and Verbeke streets. Cars drag themselves lazily past us, bumpers slicing humidity. I am a hunchback, stooped under the weight of my groceries, anxiously peering about for shadow. She taps my ankle again.       I twist to face her, but she is staring straight ahead, speaking through clenched teeth,

“A purpose. That is what you need. Walk with a purpose, child, walk with a purpose. The bastards won’t touch you, if you walk with a purpose. And lose the big bags, it just attracts attention…”

She steps from the curb. I stop myself, just in time, before giving her a push.

 

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