Minds break apart at midnight,
piece together in dreamless sleep.
Robert Lowell poaches pen-and-ink
drawings for Life Studies.
Sylvia Plath dons Ariel’s red dress,
but loses Ariadne’s thread.
Lowell raises For the Union Dead,
mythic monument to his family’s best.
Pigeons decorate it with their ***** mess.
Plath pins a ******* to her chest —
shockingly pink —
and stands beside the kitchen sink,
Stirring a *** of poet’s gruel.
Madness and death the golden rule
no artistry can break. Not even the careless
reader can take leave of these senses
Once they’re rendered on the page.
Confession doesn’t age well,
as Lowell knows oh so well,
unless it suggests more substantial fare,
say, a flannel bathrobe for him to wear
in a Boston psychiatric ward — if he dares.
There’s something wrong with his head.
Crown him Caligula; his lineage has fled.
“What does that have to do with me, Daddy?” Plath artfully whines.
“Fill the tulip jars with red water, not wine,” he replies.
“The bridegroom cometh. Turn off the oven.”
But it is too late. She has met her fate before it predeceases her.
Like a teacher’s pet, she bets her life on a recitation
of Daddy, a term of endearment,
a term of interment in a stark, loveless miscarriage,
a dark, masculine disparagement of her freedom. O Daddy dearest.
Lowell shoots up to salute the younger poet, guessing
she has given the year’s best reading by a girl in red dresses.
At this stage, what does it matter that his “mind’s not right”?
What can he do but give up his right to pray, as every insight
But no Our Father for Plath. For her, the Kingdom comes too late.
Colossal poetry cannot save; the poet raves and raves and raves
into that dark night.
Turn off the oven, turn out the lights. Daddy, too, is not right.
Blake fired his Proverbs of Hell
in the dull, damning kilns
of England’s Industrial Age.
A poet’s no sage, but Lowell earned
his wings when he doctored Blake’s phrase:
“I myself am hell.”
A stone angel directs his descent:
Fortune favors the bold.
Never discount the power of chance.
Affliction of the senses is a gift.
Invisible seeks invisible.
Darkness obscures our limits.
We carry darkness within us.
Anarchy breeds spirit.
Artistry breeds no merit.
Appropriate beauty, at all costs,
whether, man, beast or angel.
Poetry births an artifact of words; we unearth them, and they adhere.
We bury them, and they fall flat — hollow sounds, futile splats,
prehistoric grunts ground into the ground.
Bathed in lithium and alcohol, here bobs your calling, Robert:
Everything matters; nothing coheres.
Build a shell of a soul on this maxim, a notebook of negation.
Grind your axes.
Sanctuaries may crumble, gates may close. Press on. Press on.
Corkscrew your identity into the iambic line; rouse the reader to find
the misleading promise of Eternity in the sonnet, the sonnet,
the endless sonnet.
For minds lost in madness, tree limbs dangle like kite tails in the wind. No one flies here anymore. Gather reddened kindling while ye may.
What exiles you from the ancients — Homer, Virgil and Horace —
springs from vision, not technique: You lack the requisite blindness.
Absence absents the soul. Here, now, forever, shimmers only presence,
only the present, only Presence: divine, human, animal, marmoreal.
Skunks, sails, cars and pails. Sing on, O son of New England!
Day by day, failing all, fill your void with fiery
hieroglyphs of verse. Then call your duty done.
Behold: You are not the favorite, after all, but Camus’ stranger,
trapped in the blinding sun, stumbling on the burning sand.
Only what dies in you endures.
“Is getting well ever an art,
or art a way to get well?”
The skunks scurry, scavenge and survive far too long for you to answer.
You lie down beside orange fishnets, facing the shore.
At midnight, you will dream of dreamless sleep.
To follow the development of this poem, it's important to know the works and lives of the confessional poets Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. If you are unfamiliar with them, I suggest you first read "Skunk Hour" by Lowell and then "Daddy" by Plath. Short biographies would help, too.