My Father Didn’t Dance With Sylvia Plath, June 94


New Year’s Eve, curled in the swivelling chair
in my parent’s TV room, “Garfield’s 9 Lives” cracking up
Katie, my five-year-old, and Ariel in my hands
as my father stalks from the left and growls

within his cavern of flu “are you reading
one of your competitors?” the proposition so weird
I spill cola on page 41, “The Moon and the Yew Tree”—
“This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.

The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.”—
and wildly mourn inside the stain on the mental
landscape and wonder what “appalling and triumphant fulfillment”
will consume the world

to earn the (privilege?) of a foreword like Caliban’s
etched painfully into its orbiting headstone with a whining
dentist’s drill. Garfield, in one of his past lives,
is flattened by an upright grand piano. Katie screams,

delighted. And I read the poems waking in the night
to the baby’s mewing,
to the sleeplessness, the strained awareness
of lives wound into motion “like fat gold watches”

by love, somehow, incredibly,
by confession,
though not of a hell
anyone’s heard before,

like the mind, invisible monument to the world,
or like my father drowning in his chair, his letter
of commendation (his piece of his skipper’s silver star)
perched in the attic,

or like Sylvia, angel malcontent, wanting to be
more than a lethal mist of words.
After I read,
I close my eyes, imagining home, typewriter on the kitchen table,
curtains open so I can see the gourd tied to the poplar:

a vacant home for house wrens, fugitive daydreams.
It is going black with mold, yet there is enough
of its original yellow “Next spring!”
the wind blowing through it says, making me think

of Larry Franzen’s head occupying the dorm room
next mine in college. And his father once danced
with Sylvia Plath. “She was willowy,
long-waisted, sharp-elbowed, nervous, giggly, gracious—

a brilliant tense presence embarrassed by restraint.”
Just as in another life Garfield belonged to a pharaoh,
embarrassingly sealed in a tomb, wrapped like a mummy,
but alive. Katie stares, entertained, her mouth opened

cautiously, as if suddenly remembering a story
about an abducted girl who was murdered and never got to see
her parents again. And Father properly calculates the flight-
paths of shells fired from the destroyer’s main turrets.

They spiral like quarterbacked footballs over the Italian
mountains, over the Audie Murphy and his battalion of heroes,
into the Nazi hindquarters. And I, as the cat composes
“The Messiah,” as little birds cry forever outside their gourd,

“Happy New Year!” I gently peel
the damp pages of her book.
I let the words dry
their wings.