[ Diane Wakoski / The Complete Greed, 1-13 ]
perhaps they are alewives
and dying on the edge of the lake.
The lake itself is choking
and turning into a swamp.
For 33 nights I have lain on the edge
of this decadent body of water
and asked myself questions.
For as many days
I have counted my attributes
and cultivated my serenity;
and now has come the time for explanation,
definitions being past
and formed by life itself,
character and blood taking their miserable toll of lives,
and I have wept silently
and spoken angrily to empty rooms
and tried to resist pain without blunting my other feelings.
Thus, I feel I must speak of, about, and to Sylvia,
who stuck her head in a gas oven
out of a similiar despair,
who wound two silver clocks at once
and found her hands broken under a hankerchief,
whose mouth hovered over a canyon in the West on a hot day
and refreshment near East jack-in-the-pulpits.
A river took her to breakfast.
She was a girl carrying the wind in her arms.
And I must speak of her beauty
and why she died,
breaking her own haunting words, like crackers into soup,
the breath, a thick silver spoon,
melting away in steaming liquid
and my urgency
and for myself,
a rough fish eating up the bottom of a lake,
a pledge, an affirmation, and a surly chin stuck out
at the world,
announcing my attention to survive.
you fine-grained piece of white bread,
you piece of lace in an attic dress,
you crystal glass in a beanery,
you satin slippers worn to hike through a muddy wood,
you deserved so much
and got so little,
or were so mistakingly used,
as many of us are.
But in a classic manner
you died in order not to perpetuate
So this is my day to affirm my survival
and my commonness.
I am thick Polish rye bread,
I am homespun muslin,
I am stoneware,
I am a pair of wellingtons,
I can/ I will survive
whether the man I love, who makes me calm on a windy day,
goes away or not.
I wont wont wont
even for poetry.
My children I have already given away,
and their lives are better without me.
For a woman
there is only one thing that makes sense:
a man who loves her faithfully & keeps her warm at night.
If he goes, her life does not go,
but it becomes a book wth none of the pages in the right order.
Listen, Sylvia, you beautiful red & bloody tulip in a hospital room, I know
how you felt,
how the weight of days without your husband was like steel bearings on
I know how his denials & betrayals
made you feel your body was an empty stained test tube.
I know how you counted up your jam jars in the middle of the night
waiting for his footsteps.
I know how his gravity pulled on you like a diesel truck attached to yr lip,
how, like a planet pulled out of its orbit
by another body's perturbations,
you were flung out into empty space
and could not survive its long night of outer darkness.
But I wont wont wont
even for purity.
Sylvia, I want you to know what happened after you died -
poets wept with one eye & laughed with the other,
knowing you would no longer be there to astonish them with yr beautiful
your husband took another wife and left her to gas herself also.
publishers and relatives cleaned up on your dead sales,
for everyone wants to buy the book of a suicide,
Sylvia, they all loved you better dead
without your feelings there to chide them for their lack of humanity,
they could all talk about you when dead,
and not be contradicted by life.
Oh, Sylvia, I will never give any of them
no one will gloat over my body and say, "What a pity
she might have been a great poet."
no one will get the chance to be dramatic & remorseful
about not loving me enough,
they will have to prove their feelings while I'm living
or eat their own shit instead of shovelling it onto my grave,
no publisher or relative will clean up on my dead royalties because
I'll be living
and a man's work is as good when he's living as when he's dead/
I dont want to flutter to the pulse of the best-seller list
just because I'm a corpse,
and no mustached man will go to talk
late at night in bars about how wonderful I was/ he'll have
to prove it to me now
while I'm living.
I wont wont wont
even for poetry.
Oh, no, Sylvia, they all stepped in
with their meaness and got fat on it
when you killed yourself
and I am too spiteful,
too nasty to let the world
hypocritically walk on me.
If they want to slander me,
treat me brutally,
or use me,
they'll have to do it in public
and with my sharp tongue
very much alive and chiding them
every minute of the way.
You might say I'm too bitchy,
my fiber's too common,
I'm peasant bread, not a delicate white roll.
When I think how many times
they have pushed me
and how close I have come to that cupboard of cyanide
I tremble with rage
at those persecutors.
Anger, anger, anger, I say,
let me fight:
Fatigue, do not cement me and throw me in the river;
Humiliation, if I lose what I love, do not cover my face with a black hood,
Sadness, do not crust me with the soot of your windows.
I wont wont wont
for anyone's pleasure.
Here is our problem, Sylvia:
how to feel enough anger to survive
and yet not to soil one's ability
how to love,
open oneself up,
and not be destroyed.
Is love always a body climbing over a
forbidden wall with a spotlight & machine gun on it?
Is honesty always suicide?
Would we all die like you,
if we were honest?
with one white duck
on a grey green day,
the waters muddy, not glassy & blue as I remember
the Pacific from my childhood.
And now a flock of ten white ducks
arranged like a slender skiff
moving in unison
as all the drops of water
make rhythmic formations & move
like one wave.
two wild coots,
their heads black, bodies brown and streaked with white,
red-winged blackbirds and crows
all life seeks to perpetuate itself,
the birds spending their lives
searching for food
building new houses each year
life being day-to-day and never-ending search,
only we humans taking time out to wonder
whether we want to go on.
Sylvia, our brains got too big,
our feelings are ripe apples all over the
ready to fall off,
ready to be shaken off,
leaving and empty tree.
Simple apple tree,
you can lose your fruit, your leaves,
live through winter,
and be another tree next spring, summer & fall.
Your beauty is
the insensitivity to pain,
the inability to think about pain,
that lack of need for a complex & changing identity.
There are schizophrenics, I think,
madmen who try to turn themselves
who stand for hours
holding their two meager branches out
hoping only to stand there through the seasons
being only trees
never having to come to terms with
knowledge or failure,
betrayal, or deceit,
one's own anger at inhumanity.
with your tongue of bellflowers & chocory,
wearing an apron of bees,
your white ankles like plover breasts flashing among field grass,
Sylvia, whose father called you a kitchen match & struck you to light up
Sylvia, whose mother used you as a needle to sew the family shrouds,
Sylvia, whose husband was the claw of a bear
and whose hand stole the honey under that apron of bees,
Sylvia, whose children were a cloud of gnats stinging you around the
eyes and mouth, irritating you when you wanted to read or speak,
oh, Sylvia, who lived in constant terror
of being ignored or left behind by the one man you loved,
Sylvia, whose life was like mine,
with its baby hands asking for love
and being slapped by fathers, mechanics & woodsmen,
whose fatigue is from trying to hold a house of bricks with no mortar
as love & being loved
can hold our lives together
& sound in any weather -
I wont wont wont
go the way you did:
I wont die for love, poetry, truth, or a man who betrays me;
my grandparents were potato farmers
and I have a bit of the simple potato
I have been a tree in winter,
and I did not scream when the birds
flew out of my hair.
Living from day to day is a humiliating effort.
And for those of us
is like shoes to wear on a long walk,
the bare beeding feet of our failures
can give infection, gangrene, loss.
How can we recognize our failures
and not feel sorry for ourselves?
And what feeling
is less imbued with dignity
Sylvia, you would not fall into that
of abandoned women,
so you floated away down some other river.
But I wont go with you:
you, ring-necked loon,
beautyiful thine-noted flute,
cup of Li Po's wine,
girl with butterflies tattooed on your palm.
which is a kind of poetry
is not real
is not human
and if my life & the pains I have taken with it
are to mean anything,
I want them to speak for love,
for surviving pain and using the knowledge
to be compassionate to others.
I am as thin as a sheet of cellophane
I have no more innocent resistance.
I am dry and almost past tears.
while I do not admire them
I will cling to my flaws:
my easy anger,
my selfish refusal to give that one possession I have left
and my spiteful desire to be alive
to see my enemies suffer the natural consequences of their own
meanness, stupidity & inhumanity.
Sylvia, I wont wont wont die.
I will not give anyone the pleasure
of my voluntary death,
tho it would be a relief to get it all
not to be alive in case the man I love so much
leaves me again,
not to be here fighting the battles of honesty & historical confusion.
not to have to suffer being alone or rejected or poor one more time,
I will go on even if I shred my own thin cellophane self ragged
in my sleep at night
because I want to believe
this pain & suffering have meant something,
that I can inspire someone to love me
long and faithfully,
and that my words, my life, may give someone
courage to go on.
I wont wont wont die
even for relief.
I wont let the other poets cry with one eye and laugh with the other
or relieve anyone of my searching hard but honest questions about them.
I wont wont wont
and let the world off easy.
Love is fighting the battle,
even when you think you might lose.
I will go on,
for love is the water that cannot be used up,
though it be transformed
to bloody underground stream.
Slyvia, when you are dead
no one really weeps for you;
they weep for themselves.
this fish wont die
in the gasping lake today.
water is life.