29 October 2012

Tuesday poem: 'Sylvia fights off the boys'

Sylvia fights off the boys

Every time, it comes around
to this
I know when to expect it

He will caress my face with
his forefinger, his floppy
fringe hanging over
his eyes
He will trace
the scar on my cheek
back and forth
erasing it, and he will say
‘How did you get this?’

and each time
I tell another story

But the truth of it is
it was a rollerskating accident

and the truth of it is
a pirate with his rapier

and the truth of it is
I am a rotting apple
and it is my worm

and the truth of it is
it was the sharp bite of death

and the truth of it is
I hit my face climbing out
of my grave

but the truth of it is
good girls don’t have scars

A couple of days ago it was Sylvia Plath's 80th birthday, or, rather, it would have been if she had lived.

I'm glad she's remembered, though I often feel she's remembered for all the wrong reasons. She was a gifted poet – I can't believe she died at age 30. Who writes poetry that good before they're 30? How good would she have got if she'd lived longer? It's that death that gets in the way, that gets between us and her poetry. I guess that's just how it is.

When I was studying her, one thing that really struck me is what an all-American girl she had been. There was more to her than that, of course. This poem is my take on her at that stage of her life, when she was an all-American girl, going out with all-American boys. Though probably it's really about me. I have a scar on my face too, hence my obsession with hers. (Mine was acquired at a younger age, at primary school, when the boy playing cricket said 'Don't touch the ball', which had just flown past me. I, being contrary, immediately picked it up and ran away with it. He caught me and pushed me off a bank (it wasn't very high) and I cut my face.) 'Sylvia fights off the boys' is in My Iron Spine. Just to prove my obsession, there's another poem in there about Sylvia (and Ted) and her scar (and his scar).

I haven't blogged in ages, partly because I've been slack, and partly because I've been away. I might blog about that sometime. It was awesome.

For more Tuesday Poems, visit the hub blog over here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.


Rachel Fenton said...

I like to think she'd have been responsible for as many obsessive followers if she had lived. Wonder what she'd have made of it all.

Helen McKinlay said...

Thanks for posting this Helen. It good to think she had some fun before
it all ended. I don't know much about her. You have inspired me to search her out.