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  • Nazifa Islam

Sylvia Plath Found Poems in SAGINAW

Last summer, David Harrison Horton invited me to contribute some found poems to SAGINAW No. 9 and so the first of my Sylvia Plath found poems were introduced to the world! Read "I Wanted a Nice Life," "Wanting," "Soft Blossoms," "Spring," "Tongue-Shy," "Some Sleep Is Bleak," and "No Solace" here. David was kind enough to nominate "Wanting" for a Pushcart Prize later in 2021.


All seven of these poems were written using paragraphs from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. The paragraphs for each poem can be found below with the words I selected in red.


"I Wanted a Nice Life"


– Now I’ll never see him again, and maybe it’s a good thing. He walked out of my life last night for once and for all. I know with sickening certainty that it’s the end. There were just those two dates we had, and the time he came over with the boys, and tonight. Yet I liked him too much - - - way too much, and I ripped him out of my heart so it wouldn’t get to hurt me more than it did. Oh, he’s magnetic, he’s charming; you could fall into his eyes. Let’s face it: his sex appeal was unbearably strong. I wanted to know him - - - the thoughts, the ideas behind the handsome, confident, wise-cracking mask. “I’ve changed,” he told me. “You would have liked me three years ago. Now I’m a wiseguy.” We sat together for a few hours on the porch, talking, and staring at nothing. Then the friction increased, centered. His nearness was electric in itself. “Can’t you see,” he said. “I want to kiss you.” So he kissed me, hungrily, his eyes shut, his hand warm, curved burning into my stomach. “I wish I hated you,” I said. “Why did you come?” “Why? I wanted your company. Alby and Pete were going to the ball game, and I couldn’t see that. Warrie and Jerry were doing drinking; couldn’t see that either.” It was past eleven; I walked to the door with him and stepped outside into the cool August night. “Come here,” he said. “I’ll whisper something: I like you, but not too much. I don’t want to like anybody too much.” Then it me and I just blurted, “I like people too much or not at all. I’ve got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them.” He was definite, “Nobody knows me.” So that was it; the end. “Goodbye for good, then,” I said. He looked hard at me, a smile twisting his mouth. “You lucky kid; you don’t know how lucky you are.” I was crying quietly, my face contorted. “Stop it!” The words came like knife thrusts, and then gentleness, “In case I don’t see you, have a nice time at Smith.” “Have a hell of a nice life,” I said. And he walked off down the path with his jaunty, independent stride. And I stood there where he left me, tremulous with love and longing, weeping in the dark. That night it was hard to get to sleep.


"Wanting"


Tonight was awful. It was the combination of everything. Of the play “Goodbye My Fancy,” of wanting, in a juvenile way, to be, like the heroine, a reporter in the trenches, to be loved by a man who admired me, who understood me as much as I understood myself. And then there was Jack, who tried so hard to be nice, who was hurt when I said all he wanted was to make out. There was the dinner at the country club, the affluence of money everywhere. And then there was the record…the one so good for dancing. I forgot it was the one until Louie Armstrong began to sing in a voice husky with regret, ‘I’ve flown around the world in a plane, settle revolutions in Spain, the North pole I have charted…still I can’t get started with you.’ Jack said: ‘Ever heard it before?’ So I smiled, ‘Oh yes.’ It was Bob.’ That settled things for me - - - a crazy record, and it was our long talks, his listening and understanding. And I knew I loved him.”


"Soft Blossoms"


A little thing, like children putting flowers in my hair, can fill up the widening cracks in my self-assurance like soothing lanolin. I was sitting out on the steps today, uneasy with fear and discontent. Peter," (the little boy-across-the-street) with the pointed pale face, the grave blue eyes and the slow fragile smile came bringing his adorable sister Libby of the flaxen braids and the firm, lyrically-formed child-body. They stood shyly for a little, and then Peter picked a white petunia and put it in my hair. Thus began an enchanting game, where I sat very still, while Libby ran to and fro gathering petunias, and Peter stood by my side, arranging the blossoms. I closed my eyes to feel more keenly the lovely delicate-child -hands, gently tucking flower after flower into my curls. "And now a white one," the lisp was soft and tender. Pink, crimson, scarlet, white... the faint pungent odor of the petunias was hushed and sweet. And all my hurts were smoothed away. Something about the frank, guileless blue eyes, the beautiful young bodies, the brief scent of the dying flowers smote me like the clean quick cut of a knife. And the blood of love welled up in my heart with a slow pain.


"Spring"


January 24 ... Saturday morning, and I am at the old game of catching time between my fingers as it is running, forever running, away. This last week has been a blissful relaxation: breakfast in bed, a slow, languid getting up, reading modern poetry, seeing an excellent play "Bell, Book and Candle" in Springfield, having leisure time to write witty letters - oh, all this. And now the sensuous delight of sitting warm and clear-eyed at my desk, looking out of the window into the thick, steamy, rain-lashed dripping air, and hearing the cars slithering by, and the persistent scritch of shovels on cement, scraping away the slush. All is muted and blurred with thaw, and there is the fresh wet pregnant smell of earth again that makes me long for spring (again.) And I have taken to reading the muscular packed verse of Gerard Manley Hopkins again: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God... " and then again: "How to keep - is there any, any, is there none such, nowhere known, some bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace, latch or catch or key to keep / Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty ... from vanishing away?" Yes, obsessed, as always, with the vanishing of time!


"Tongue-Shy"


Absolutely blind fuming sick. Anger, envy and humiliation. A green seethe of malice through the veins. To faculty meeting, rushing through a gray mizzle, past the Alumnae House, no place to park, around behind the college, bumping, rumping through sleety frozen ruts. Alone, going alone, among strangers. Month by month, colder shoulders. No eyes met mine. I picked up a cup of coffee in the crowded room among faces more strange than in September. Alone. Loneliness burned. Feeling like a naughty presumptuous student. Marlies in a white jumper & red-dark patterned blouse. Sweet, deft: simply can't come. Wendell" & I are doing a text-book. Havent you heard? Eyes, dark, lifted to Wendell's round simper. A roomful of smoke and orange-seated black-painted chairs. Sat beside a vaguely familiar woman in the very front, no one between me and the president. Foisted forward. Stared intently at gilt leaved trees, orange-gilt columns, a bronze frieze of stags, stags and an archer, bow-bent. Intolerable, unintelligible bickering about plusses & minuses, graduate grades. On the backcloth a greek with white-silver feet fluted to a maid, coyly kicking one white leg out of her Greek robe. Pink & orange & gilded maidens. And a story, a lousy sentimental novel chapter 30 pages long & utterly worthless at my back: on this I lavish my hours, this be my defense, my sign of genius against those people who know somehow miraculously how to be together, au courant, at one. Haven't you heard? Mr Hill has twins. So life spins on outside my nets. I spotted Alison," ran for her after - meeting - she turned, dark, a stranger. "Alison", Wendell took her over, "are you driving down?" She knew. He knew. I am deaf, dumb. Strode into slush, blind. Into snow & gray mizzle. All the faces of my student shining days turned the other way. Shall I give, unwitting, dinners? To invite them to entertain us? Ted sits opposite: make his problems mine. Shut up in public those bloody private wounds. Salvation in work. What if my work is lousy? I want to rush into print any odd tripe. Words, words, to stop the deluge through the thumbhole in the dike. This be my secret place. All my life have I not been outside? Ranged against well-meaning foes? Desperate, intense: why do I find groups impossible? Do I even want them? Is it because I cannot match them, tongue-shy, brain-small, that I delude my dreams into grand novels and poems to astound? I must bridge the gap between adolescent glitter & mature glow. O steady. Steady on. I have my one man. To help him I will.


"Some Sleep Is Bleak"


... Some sleep is like a pile of garbage, with egg shells jagged, and vermin swarming over lurid orange peels, coffee grounds and sick wan lettuce leaves; that is the sleep of nightmare fragments, when the operation or the exam is coming the next day. Some sleep is bleak and gray, sparing with its calm and soothing treatment; that is the sleep of the worker, when each day is like the last and the next, and all time is present. But there are sleeps that are born of spring and of the slumbering hibernation of bears in leaf-hushed caves. My ears caught the twitter of birds, strange and early. My shut eyelids felt sun, and my nose smelled earth, and my skin felt warm wind. Eyes closed, body not yet mine, but still part of something - of air, of earth, of fire, of water. - And the sound of cars along the street and someone breathing in the next bed. I opened my eyes and pulled my body to me again. Leaning on an elbow, there was the window open, the curtains blowing in the Saturday wind, and the sunlight and shadow sharp and clear on the building across the street. To lie and regret the emergence from the womb as the umbilical cord is snipped, neatly, and the knot tied. To regret, regret, and know that the next move will be to arise, to walk to the toilet, one foot after another, to sit on the seat, sleepily, releasing the bright yellow stream of urine, yawning, and undoing rags from brown hair and curls. To get up, brush teeth, wash face, and begin again, in the merciless daylight, all the rituals of dressing that our culture subscribes to


"No Solace"


Whom can I talk to? Get advice from? No one. A psychiatrist is the God of our age. But they cost money. And I won’t take advice, even if I want it. I’ll kill myself. I am beyond help. No one here has time to probe, to aid me in understand myself…so many others are worse off than I. How can I selfishly demand help, solace, guidance? No, it is my own mess, and even if now I have lost my sense of perspective, thereby my creative sense of humor, I will not let myself get sick, go mad, or retreat like a child into blubbering on someone else’s shoulder. Masks are the order of the day – and the least I can do is cultivate the illusion that I am gay, serene, not hollow and afraid. Someday, god knows when, I will stop this absurd, self-pitying, idle, futile despair. I will begin to think again, and to act according to the way I think. Attitude is a pitifully relative and capracious quality to base a faith on. Like the proverbial sand, it slides, founders, sucks me down to hell.


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