Poet as Housewife

February 10, 2020

Always a broom leaned against a wall,
meals never on time, if they come at all.
Days without dates through which she moves
empty and stubborn, slightly confused.
Ironing hung dejectedly over a chair,
gestures that come from who-knows-where.
Old letters unanswered, piled together,
papers and pills stuffed deep in a drawer.
Thankful to be part of your heart’s great whole
yet devoted to the limits of her own small skull.
O orderly biped, take heed,
leave her alone — let her read.

Elisabeth Eybers
Trans. Jacquelyn Pope

chaste kiss

February 10, 2020

But come, dearest creature — I will — give you one chaste kiss.

Virginia Woolf
November 1926 letter to Vita Sackville-West

a Disneyland of the soul

February 10, 2020

Occasionally our critics get a little heavy and start talking about the human condition, but on the whole the audience prefers art not to be a mirror held up to life but a Disneyland of the soul, containing Romanceland, Spyland, Pornoland and all the other Escapelands which are so much more agreeable than the complex truth.

Margaret Atwood
Amnesty International: An Address

– Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to. I’ve just got to put down what happened to me this afternoon. I can’t tell mother; not yet, anyway. She was in my room when I came home, fussing with clothes, and she didn’t even sense that something had happened. She just kept scolding and chattering on and on. So I couldn’t stop her and tell her. No matter how it comes out, I have to write it.

It rained all afternoon at the farm,” and I was cold and wet, my hair under a silk print kerchief, my red ski jacket over my sweatshirt. I had worked hard on beans all afternoon and picked over three bushels. Since it was five o’clock, people were leaving, and I was waiting beside the cars for my ride home. Kathy had just come up, and as she got on her bike she called, “Here comes Ilo.”

I looked, and sure enough, there he was, coming up the road in his old khaki shirt with his familiar white handkerchief tied around his head. I was on conversational terms with him since that day we worked together in the strawberry field. He had given me a pen and ink sketch of the farm, drawn with detail and assurance. Now he was working on a sketch of one of the boys.

So I called, “Have you finished John’s picture?”

“Oh, ya, ya,” he smiled. “Come and see. Your last chance.” He had promised to show it to me when he was done, so I ran out and got in step with him on his way to the barn. That’s where he lives.

On the way, we passed Mary Coffee. I felt her looking at me rather strangely. Somehow I couldn’t meet her eyes.

“Hullo, Mary,” Ilo said.

“Hello, Ilo,” Mary said in an oddly colourless voice.

We walked by Ginny, Sally, and a crowd of kids keeping dry in the tractor shed. A roar went up as we passed. A singsong, “Oh, Sylvia.” My cheeks burned.

“Why do they have to tease me?” I asked. Ilo just laughed. He was walking very fast.

“We’re going home in a little while,” Milton yelled from the washroom.

I nodded and kept walking, looking at the ground. Then we were at the barn, a huge place, a giant high-ceilinged room smelling of horses and damp hay. It was dim inside; I thought I saw the figure of a person on the other side of the stalls, but I couldn’t be sure. Without saying a word, Ilo had begun to mount a narrow flight of wooden stairs.

“You live up there? All these stairs?”
He kept walking up, so I followed him, hesitating at the top.

“Come in, come in,” he said, opening a door. The picture was there, in his room. I walked over the threshold. It was a narrow place with two windows, a table full of drawing things, and a cot, covered with a dark blanket. Oranges and milk were set out on a table with a radio.

“Here,” he held out the picture. It was a fine pencil sketch of John’s head.

“Why, how do you do it? With the side of the pencil?”

It seemed of no significance then, but now I remember how Ilo had shut the door, had turned on the radio so that music came out.

He talked very fast, showing me a pencil. “See, here the lead comes out, any size.” I was very conscious of his nearness. His blue eyes were startlingly close, looking at me boldly, with flecks of laughter in them.

“I really have to go. They will be waiting. The picture was lovely.”

Smiling, he was between me and the door. A motion. His hand closed around my arm. And suddenly his mouth was on mine, hard, vehement, his tongue darting between my lips, his arms like iron around me.

“Ilo, Ilo!” I don’t know whether I screamed or whispered, struggling to break free, my hands striking wildly, futilely against his great strength. At last he let me go, and stood back. I held my hand against my mouth, warm and bruised from his kiss. He looked at me quizzically, with something like surprised amusement as he saw that I was crying, frightened. No one ever kissed me that way before, and I stood there, flooded with longing, electric, shivering.

“Why, why,” he made sympathetic, depreciating little noises. “I get you some water.”

He poured me out a glass, and I drank it. He opened the door, and I stumbled blindly downstairs, past Maybelle and Robert, the little coloured children, who called my name in the corrupted way kids have of pronouncing things. Past Mary Lou, their mother, who stood there, a silent, dark presence.

And I was outdoors. A truck was going by. Coming from behind the barn. In it was Bernie – – – the horrible, short, muscular boy from the washroom. His eyes glittered with malicious delight, and he drove fast, so I could not catch up with him. Had he been in the barn? Had he seen Ilo shut the door, seen me come out? I think he must have.

I walked up past the washroom to the cars. Bernie yelled out, “Why are you crying?” I wasn’t crying. Kenny and Freddy came by on the tractor. A group of boys, going home, looked at me with a light flickering somewhere in their eyes. “Did he kiss you?” one asked, with a knowing smile.

I felt sick. I couldn’t have spoken if someone had talked to me. My voice was stuck in my throat, thick and furry.

Mr. Tompkins came up to the pump to watch Kenny and Freddy run the old stock car. They were nice, but they knew. They all must know.

“There’s cutie pie,” Kenny said.

“Cutie pie and angel face.” Freddy said.

So I stood there, arms folded, staring at the whirring engine, smiling as if I was all right, as if nothing had happened.

Milton sat in the rumble seat with me going home. David drove, and Andy was in front. They all looked at me with that dancing light in their eyes. David said in a stiff, strained voice, “Everybody in the washroom was watching you go into the barn and making wisecracks.”

Milton asked about the picture. We talked a little about art and drawing. They were all so nice. I think they may have been relieved at my narrow escape; they may have expected me to cry. They knew, though, they knew.

So I’m home. And tomorrow I have to face the whole damn farm. Good Lord, It might have happened in a dream. Now I can almost believe it did. But tomorrow my name will be on the tip of every tongue. I wish I could be smart, or flip, but I’m too scared. If only he hadn’t kissed me. I’ll have to lie and say he didn’t. But they know. They all know. And what am I against so many…?

Sylvia Plath
Journal entry summer 1950