Annotated Mash-Up Plath, Jones, Necropastoral, WOUND WOUND WOUND

by on Jan.21, 2011

OMGoodness, I’m so glad we’re talking about 1. necropastoral (“this is the light of the mind, cold and planetary”!) and 2. wounding the viewer (“I can stay awake all night, if need be–/Cold as an eel, without eyelids”).  These two tactics combine beautifully in Plath and in other poets who integrate bodies (rather than classic forms) into the lyric.  It’s the colonial paradox: female bodies, bodies of color, bodies with disabilities are simultaneously likened to the Nature, animalistic, earth-bound (minds that cannot transcend!), and marked as unnatural.  Wrong, swampy, complicated, ready to fail, burst, spaz out, etc.

In the early hours of the 1960s (see The Feminine Mystique, see the civil rights movement, etc.), Sylvia Plath and LeRoi Jones, from their disenfranchised desks, write this sociopsychic poem:

I am inside someone

who hates me.

I shall never get out of this!  There are two of me now:[1]
This new absolutely white person and the old yellow one,
And the white person is certainly the superior one.

I look

out from his eyes[2].  Smell

what fouled tunes[3] come in

to his breath.

She doesn’t need food, she is one of the real saints.
At the beginning I hated her, she had no personality–
She lay in bed with me like a dead body
And I was scared, because she was shaped just the way I was.

The black body, the female body, the body with disabilities, the aged body, the body that falls outside the narrow radius of the beauty ideal, the Jewish body, the infertile body, the child’s body, the body that announces its poverty, all of these bodies exist as 1. the human form, and 2. the semi-transparent holographic veneer the gaze projects over the human form.

To live in this state of MUNDANE TRAUMA (to harken back to Johannes’s Arbus quote!), one internalizes, or rejects, or squirms, etc.  To live THROUGH this state of MUNDANE TRAUMA, we do one of two things:

1. reject and rebel
2. internalize and abject (there is no verb form for abjection? this is wrong.)

Myself, a self inside a human female form, little control over the hologram, I’m in the internalize and abject camp.  I’m in the camp of creatures who, campily, have learned to

1. attract the male gaze (on the page, at least)
2. lock the gaze on the female form (engender a baroque stare?)
3. WOUND the viewer
a. pierce the god-eye
b. remove the semi-transparent hologram that APPROXIMATES BEAUTY, and expose the rotted underside, the maggot metamorphosis, the leaky organ brigade (wink)
c. absorb the BEAUTY into the grotesque interior
d. give birth
e. pull off the corset
f. vomit
g. etc. etc. etc.

But merged, these reactions produce a thorough history of latter Twentieth C. marked subject.  The poem continues:

The face sings, alone

at the top

of the body.

And secretly she began to hope I’d die.
Then she could cover my mouth and eyes, cover me entirely,
And wear my painted face the way a mummy-case
Wears the face of a pharaoh, though it’s made of mud and water.

All

flesh, all song, aligned.  For hell

is silent at those cracked lips

flakes of skin and mind

twist and whistle softly as they fall.

It was your own death

you saw.  Your own face, stiff

and raw.

The spidery jaws, the spine bones bared for a moment
Like the white lines on a blueprint.
Should I stir, I think this pink and purple plastic
Guts bag would clack like a child’s rattle,
Old grievances jostling each other, so many loose teeth.

I test myself,

with memory.  A live bloody skeleton.  Hung as softly

as summer.  Sways like words’ melody, as ugly as any

lips, or fingers stroking lakes, or flesh like a

white frightened scream.

Seven hours knocked out of my right mind
Into a black sack
Where I relax, foetus or cat,
Lever of his wet dreams.

The role given,

mashed into protein

grace.  A lifted arm

in shadow.  A lifted thinking

banging silently

in the darkness.

I fondle what

I find

of myself.

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black.  The light is blue.

As the metal is hot, it is not,

given to love.

It burns the thing

inside it.  And that thing

screams.

I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.

When they say, “It is Roi

who is dead?”  I wonder

who they will mean?

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.


[1] Hypothesis:  The subaltern speaks.  Black man, a force for love inside the grotesque carapace/bioprison/exoskeletal guard dog the hegemonic white culture marks him with–as warning, as punishment.  For this subject position, there’s no need to eviscerate the lyric ‘I’, but a need to crack the shell and free the ‘I’, whole.  Question: can it be located distinct from its inscribed cage?  “What I thought was love / in me, I find a thousand instances / as fear.”  Alternately:  The subaltern speaks.  I hate the doll who encloses me.  White woman, grotesque multiplicity inside the impermeable form of the classical muse, the suffocating, selfless plaster Venus.  “She may be a saint, and I may be ugly and hairy, / But she’ll soon find out that that doesn’t matter a bit.”  The lyric I is abject and irreconcilable.  It knows itself to be fear, not love, to be a finger in the eye of the mind.

[2] “And your Aryan eye, bright blue.”

[3] Rotted sustenance, necessary for survival, necessary to transmit the master’s poison.  Alternately:  “my belly a silk stocking / Where the heads of my sisters decompose.”

3 comments for this entry:
  1. adam strauss

    I love that you link Plath and Jones, and race and gender through the to my mind not expected pairing. I hope all’s well!

  2. Danielle

    Thanks, Adam! It gives me a wonderful shiver to think of these poems being written from very different cultural locations and practically the *same moment in time*!

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