American poets for 4th July: Sylvia Plath

OK, we’re going to have to agree to play nice and share here.  I mean she might have been born in the US, but she lived in the UK.  With Ted Hughes for goodness sake.  And she died here.

Anyway.  Enough about her, let’s talk about me.  Plath forms part of the reunification between me and poetry; the army who convinced me to give it another try.  I’d seen the odd poem here and there that I connected with, but reading a book of her selected poems was the first time I felt a connection with a poet.  I flickered through the book, my jaw dropping lower with each poem.  I’ve since discovered that my favourites are her poems about motherhood – Morning Song and You’re, which contains the best line ever in poetry.  But this one.  This one was the hooker:

Face Lift by Sylvia Plath

You bring me good news from the clinic,

Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white

Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m all right.

When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist

Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask. The nauseous vault

Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.

Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.

O I was sick.


They’ve changed all that. Traveling

Nude as Cleopatra in my well-boiled hospital shift,

Fizzy with sedatives and unusually humorous,

I roll to an anteroom where a kind man

Fists my fingers for me. He makes me feel something precious

Is leaking from the finger-vents. At the count of two,

Darkness wipes me out like chalk on a blackboard. . .

I don’t know a thing.


For five days I lie in secret,

Tapped like a cask, the years draining into my pillow.

Even my best friend thinks I’m in the country.

Skin doesn’t have roots, it peels away easy as paper.

When I grin, the stitches tauten. I grow backward. I’m twenty,

Broody and in long skirts on my first husband’s sofa, my fingers

Buried in the lambswool of the dead poodle;

I hadn’t a cat yet.


Now she’s done for, the dewlapped lady

I watched settle, line by line, in my mirror—

Old sock-face, sagged on a darning egg.

They’ve trapped her in some laboratory jar.

Let her die there, or wither incessantly for the next fifty years,

Nodding and rocking and fingering her thin hair.

Mother to myself, I wake swaddled in gauze,

Pink and smooth as a baby.



Secret bonus: click the link to see if she made the right career choice.


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