Plath’s Second Coming
Crashing at her sister’s before The Sister kicks her out.
Eggs sizzle then singe, smoking, in the cast-iron pan
While a red, crepuscular sunrise riffs over the Sandias,
Floods the living room with sweetening violet light
That ignites her mouth then goes sour like jaw candy
Sucked too long–she struggles to spit it out. Can’t.
“I am the new Plath,” she whispers incessantly,
Carrying mug after mug of day-old coffee, some bedecked
With flies, Bluebottles, circling lazily atop the dusty black
Murk. She’s forgotten which mug she’s selected
On which morning for which cuppa java. Brew. Espresso. Joe.
Only the light matters, and the fact that the failing spurts
Of lavender flickerdom reflect some crazy-making circuitry in her brain
She can’t find a word to describe. She could call herself
“Mad,” but that’d be a cliché. “Besotted,” “obsessed,”
“Words-rife,” “hookwinked”—which appellate does the trick?
Which word might ban incoherence, despair, incontinence,
From her sewer-like think tank? Sometimes she rises
From the chair where she’s been “composing” for hours
To discover her back aches, a long, lit wick of sear
Flaming from vertebra to vertebra. At such times
She gets confused, drops
To the floor on hands and knees, scrabbles among paper
Piles scattered pell mell on the carpet
For a single sheaf of paper, for a poem that restores order
To the marching troops of chaos
Tramping worldwide across her mind.
“What are you drinking?” The Sister demands,
Peering into the fly-sodden beverage with a sneer
That stretches her nasal-labial folds wide.
What a loser, the New Plath thinks, and smirks.
The Sister slings her suitcase onto the porch,
And the New Plath, laughing,
Trails it outside. A cooling winter night, and sunset
Sings a low, slow bass note she samples as gold-green
On her tongue before she turns, tries the door, concludes
The Sister has kicked her out.
That’s o.k., though. Homelessness is where it’s at.
Huddle in a moth-chewed
Blankie by the curb for hours, chewing nails ravaged
To bleeding cuticle beds, then be mistaken
For the lush black sacks neighbors in stoops
Sling out in garbage-tossing droves at midnight.
This is a fantasy, no?
A fantasy for the daft poet gone permanently loco?
She likes to play with the idea
That her mind has gone homeless, too.
That it’s rattling around on the street
With her own bag-of-bones body
She planted here at a quarter to eight
Because she loves to plop her junkless trunk on cement,
Watch well-to-doer’s filter in
And out of Sizzler in the suddenly snow-tinged air.
Which man ate his steak raw? The one in the blue
Business suit with pit stains soaked from ribcage
To waist? Did the bird woman with the beaky nose
Peck at her salad for hours? Riff on it. Riff on it.
She fiddles with her fingers as if they were blunt
Pencils scribbling on wind. A man gazes at her
With his green eyes lit from within, a translucent
Vase sans the orange roses she craves,
And she wonders if he can read
The air poem she’s writing, if he can even
Perceive the words. His green eyes linger there
In the mists of blowing, flickering snow after
He’s forgotten to linger himself, after he’s strode
Up the street and left, she believes, the cracked-
Brained, air-writing woman behind. No matter!
She thinks. As long as the poems get transcribed.
She licks her finger and scribbles on frigid nothingness,
Trying to cram every word into a snow waft
Or cloud before her skin pencil dries.
Four a.m. and another garbage sack lands beside her.
“Hey,” she says, and gazes up at the man in baggy-butted
Jammies meandering sleep-dazed up the stoop. He whirls
To look, but what does he see? Nothing, she thinks.
That’s because she’s made herself cozy and small
In her ragged red blanket tucked up to her neck though
A keen observer, squinting, might ascertain her as a single
Flash of violent color among the more subdued and orderly
Sacks. Admit it, she thinks. The garbage keeps her warm.
They’re clustered around her like members of a permanent
Family though, even when the night gets cold, colder,
New York City an Arctic substation of deepening blue chill
That freezes out her brain until she sees it lift smoking
With cold straight up from her skull. Still, a little nippiness isn’t so awful.
Not when the poems keep coming. The New Plath
Shouldn’t mind a subzero night. Hell, she
Thinks, it’s better than an oven–right? She whispers
To keep warm. Whimpers and the poems escape
Her frigid, rounding lips in bubble
Clouds of breath. She shakes her head at the wonder
Of her endless streams of verbiage, keeps breathing,
And the poems come faster now, little breath puffs
Of all of the genius lyrics she’s ever longed to write,
Her “Ariel,” her “Lady Lazarus,” flowing out frozen
Into the recesses of blue-black night
Where, just beyond her, other homeless poets, ghost
Silhouettes fogged in wavering white outlines,
March in ever-staggering circles to stay warm.
Now she can’t breathe
Fast enough because each breath contains
A sudden, brilliant poem
Freighted with images, sonically amazing,
The New Plath watches her poems
Stream out into the night
That grows colder and colder
Until the other homeless depart.
One drops a glove straight down
Into the massing snow. She stares
At the glove. The snow thickens
And goes wonderfully blue
And her brain stem responds with a resplendently
Cold surge of tinkle-bright joy.
Look at the glove! she thinks,
And wonders about The Sister,
If The Sister would hate the rough-hewn, grayish fabric
As much as she hated flies drowning in coffee.
The snows mounts
Till only the fingertips show, then they, too, are buried,
Which is fantastic, a release,
Because her mind, hoisted free, goes
Drifting up in an arc of new snow
A Collie sets frothing up
In multiple misting arcs
As he darts precipitously
Past. The glove gone, she can concentrate
On the poems. Her breath
Rushes out, hot air
Freezing on the mouth-biting wind.
She looks at one poem dangling,
How magnificent it is, an artifact of words
And spirit riffing lavender upon the air,
Auburgine and crimson and green.
She forgets to breathe again.
Bronchitis and The Moonlight Wolf
The cough, first, a miniscule eruption buried
Inside her breath. She breathes quietly, ineluctably
Calm, and can sense the snag, the reddening
Membranes inside the bubbling basket
Of her lungs, and she knows she’s descending.
The world turns blue. The world flows cold.
The flotsam and jetsam of coughs bursting
Up through her bones, cracking her ribcage wide,
And she’s floating atop a sea surface that shines
Dark green in the sunlight then violets toward
Twilight, and everything becomes Arctic, the blue-
Black sky like some dense, cold ceiling
Plummeting to crush her, claustrophobically frigid
As it presses plasterish against her breastbone;
She quivers and bites her wrists till they flash
Scarlet, numb, the shimmering, fractured light shards
Too bright for her eyes to bear; then, she snuggles
Inside the bronchitis
That carries her curled fetus-slick, tight
Inside its multiple rotting wombs.
For weeks every light assaults her, a liquid
Searing that makes her eyes smoke red
Then dissolve into a hot, dripping tear bath,
Her irises like some
Science-fiction lupus’s that makes her laugh
Though the laughing has to stop
Because her tender ribs talk back.
Then, one day, she glances out the window
And the sere backyard, brown-grassed and bleak,
Of her Brooklyn brownstone changes and she
Trots straight out through the unbroken glass
Onto acres of tundra.
Night, and a moon round
And white and preternaturally cold
Dangles from a sky so black and laminated
It looks dipped In ebony varnish. Night, and
A cluster of smoking stars revolves around
And around in a hazing wheel of glitter
That circles in and out of view, so she gazes
Fixedly up until she feels latched to that wheel
And is riding the starshine in smooth lovely
Circles, like a lady strapped to a knifethrower’s
Device who realizes that the possibility
Of being struck, of bleeding out,
Is actually quite real
But enjoys the ride anyway
Because it’s psychological
And intensely magical.
Around and around she goes, and the black sky
Revolves around her. The stars tilt her forward,
Back, shine straight into her eyes like interrogation
Lights, nearly blind her. Is she in a film noir gone
Wrong or some increasingly improbable
Fever dream? Is it wrong to fall in love so violently
With the impossible? She sucks her breath in, holds it,
Leaps off the wheel, is hurtled down against the tundra.
Night, and she’s deserted the wheel, and everything gleams
Impressionistically moonlit. Vastening acres of blue snow
Stretch out before her; she glances at her white wrist
Skin and is startled to see it gleam
As if the stars had fallen
Down on her, lacquered her to their level of dazzle.
She glances again and doesn’t glimpse skin at all,
Just the rich cold silver of fur ruffs lying rumpled, wind-blown,
Across her muscled chest.
A yowl makes her tremble, but it’s the howl of her sister wolf
Standing, head bowed, wobbly beside her. She gazes up into
Her sister’s face, her Arctic blue eyes, elongated muzzle,
Her sister’s hot pink tongue licking the clotted run-off
Under her own shining eyes clean. Clean and lovely
Then they’re off. The pack travels in intricate fast loops
That stretch in broad miles across the tundra. No trees,
No other creatures, just their legs and long skulls angled forward
Against the moonlight that streaks toward them, straight
Into their eyes, and the blowing ghosts of snow. Oh, the snow!
The snow churns up under their legs and goes frothing
And streaming behind them, powdery coolness that blows
Into and dampens the intricacy of their fur, makes it cling
To their lean, muscled bodies in sodden, sagging
Coats. They run with their tongues frothing out
Limp and pink behind them, dripping steam that flies
Howling into the wind,
Their legs strobing like pistons and the snow riding up cold
And hot against their irises.
They travel for days. Weeks. Years. The moon never
Stops glimmering from its sky perch, a fat round
Glow object scattering light fragments from its pedestal.
They keep running
And her legs never ache and her lungs never burn
And her joy never flickers though her lovely clenched
Heart, a hard, muscled ball inside her chest,
Rolls forward, back, a moon tempting ocean tides.
Once she remembers her
Bronchitis and the slow, incendiary waves of fever dreams
That waxed and waned as she lay coughing on her back
In bed. Did her own lights go out? she wonders.
Did she stop breathing for minutes then ascend
To Lupus Heaven? Such questions seem insignificant.
After decades of running,
She and her sister and the pack go arcing up a miniscule hill,
Infrequent on their endless looping voyage across the tundra,
And suddenly she spots a something
Over the next rise, some
Miniscule something that makes the already spiky hair
Erect higher on her neck and her gums
Glide back from her teeth in a feral smile.
A something! She calls out mentally to her sister;
They’ve never needed to communicate
In sounds, and her sister growls telepathically back
Though she never whimpers or barks, emits any howl.
Then the something soars into view
As their pace accelerates—a rabbit, all quivering
Ears and flashing, limpid eyes—
And they descend upon it at once,
They rip out its soft, furry throat,
Dark eyes darting everywhere,
Until the warm red flies, bathes them from muzzle to throat,
And the moonlight never stops shining
As they devour the rabbit and take off running again,
Blood, fur, sickness, love, streaming out into the world behind them.
Terri Brown-Davidson is a Pulitzer Prize nominee in poetry for her first book, The Carrington Monologues, and has received the AWP Intro Award Prize in poetry, the New Mexico Writer’s Scholarship for fiction, and Yaddo and Millay Colony fellowships for fiction. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in more than 1,000 journals, and she’s a former instructor at Gotham Writer’s Workshop. She recently received three 1x.com “Fresh Idea” awards for her photography and was also awarded the Dillman Resort Scholarship for Colored Pencil.