TO SYLVIA PLATH
Sylvia, you tortured laurel, Daphne frozen
By her father on the Northeast Industrial
Mud bank to stop the long-awaited free exchange
Of Godly bodily fluids, Siren atop
The cliff of the MacMillan Publishing Building
Drawing the mariners along the Hudson from
Sarah Lawrence poetry workshops to you still,
I put wax in my ears, you lousy Lorelei,
You’re no Colossus astride my city any
Longer. You’re no Ariel, inspiring some old
Prospero to incant. No! You’ve robbed me, skank, of
Every other member of my sophomore class.
Every time a writer’s block hits, someone whips
Out razor blades to scribble the bloom you wrote in
The bath water. Sylvia, you made me wear black
Patent leather heels to high school, cross gravel and
Tracks in stiletto heels, despite the rose blisters.
And now I wear black everywhere. I’ve outstrolled
The path you set for me to some London suburb’s
Oven by half a decade, but I’m still going
To funerals for the brilliant women you’ve lured
To your flytrap lair of Lorelei lyric lies.
The directors of mortuaries wink at me
As if to say, “next!” in the Second Avenue
Deli takeout line. Here’s my order: One pound of
Kosher forbearance. Spiced tongue, no need to slice it,
One of those sandwiches, the kind your mouth never
Quite wraps around, stuffed with all the things the next years
Will bring me instead of your prescribed demise, hold
The sour pickle. Sylvia, wraith, death-breath-bimbo,
I’m living to collect my Pulitzer to spite
You, you friggin’ chicken-livered lily-pusher!
I’m going to live to see the bottoms of my arms
Wobble when I stretch them out to embrace my great-
Grandchildren. The love handles won’t stop me dancing
At my later birthdays, even though you’ve thinned out
The guest list considerably. Sylvia, you
Are my Third World War, stealing my generation’s
Most brilliant and a host of others too scared to
Fire back at you from the trenches, a high stack of
Casualties in cocktail dresses piled beside
My bed every night to pray for, whose rigor
Mortis hands have dropped their pens and now just reach for
My ankles when I get up in the middle of
The night for the bathroom. I gasp, then tell them to
Drop me. Now I don’t belong to them, to you, to
Sexton, to the other women writers who have
Impaled themselves on the pens they brandished for far
Too short a time. I remind them who I am, not
Who tonight, but whom I must presume to be: last
Testifier to all that killed the others and
Locked the jaws of the ones who quit their words. They let
Go. I pee, then sleep to write tomorrow’s poem.
PREMONITION ON ELLIS ISLAND
Wait, they say, the heavy men in the pressed
Blue, glaring down pointy noses at us,
At me and at Mama in our work-worn
Shawls, now chalk-marked with “Q,” and they wave toward
The far door of the great hall. A doctor
Will pick at us for lice. Mama mutters
In the corner, watches her warped wood fingers,
Complains these men will keep us from crossing
For nothing but our pig farm mud stains, and
Don’t I just want to turn around, even
After that stinking boat ride, reeking of
Sweaty vomit, don’t I just want to turn
And try one more try back home?
I squint out quarantine room cracked panes.
I see nothing at first but the deep fog
Of this morning, smell the fish barge garbage,
Hear the furious seagulls fight for food,
But then, through the white eye of it,
I see a polished yacht a century
Ahead of us, gliding up the Hudson –
That is what they call this river between
Us and America — The glowing boat
Dangling garlands and balloons off the stern,
On deck my great-great granddaughter in a
Crown, veil, and a big white ballgown, pressed so
Straightly, hand-beaded, or so it must be!
Her name — Maria — like the Virgin, But
What virgin ever dragged her eyes up and
Down any man like that? I never could!
And yet just look at her holding a glass
Of golden wine aloft like the Statue
Of Liberty’s torch next to her, Whooping
Like a man in battle with her sisters
And her cousins all wrapped in cherry silk!
Just look at her bridegroom, so clean, handsome,
White teeth flashing like lightning, delighted
Somehow by this unladylike display,
Kissing her neck in front of all the guests,
Shouting, “Ave Maria!” and meaning
Her, dancing — is that what they call ragtime?
And everyone applauds! I blink, turn to
Mama, still muttering about delays,
Pat her arm, and tell her “Don’t fret yourself.
Wait! Soon enough, we’ll be Americans.”
Anne Babson is the author of three poetry collections, Messiah, Polite Occasions, and The White Trash Pantheon. Her play Reenactment was published last year. She is the author of four chapbooks, the latest of which, Dolly Shot, discusses women in Amerian film. She is the librettist for the opera Lotus Lives, which has been performed in New York, Boston and Montreal. Her poetry has been anthologized both in the United States and the United Kingdom, and her poems have been published in journals on five continents.