Layered lives

London is old town.  All kinds of people have wandered her streets.  And lived in her chimneyed and terraced houses.  If you look for them,  often  these houses carry small plaques denoting the various interesting and often infamous people who have lived in them.

Walking through north London, I found the house in which Sylvia Plath lived.  Not the house in which she died.  But a house of life. Right for a gorgeous spring day.  But considering where my head has been, I was strangely pleased to find it.  And remember some of her poems.

“Daddy” always stayed stuck in my head. I remember when I first read it.  And, in my school girl way, thinking how shocking it was.  How different that inner voice was to the blonde softness of the Sylvia on the book’s cover.  My first lesson on the vast chasm between what’s on the inside and what the world sees.

Sylvia.  So dark and wounded. I thought of you, on that lovely Spring day, and can’t shake the ghost of you.  But I also wondered who else lived in that house, and if they were happy.  Or as tortured as you.

By Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time —
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off the beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You —

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I’m finally through.
The black telephone’s off at the root,
The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two —
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

9 thoughts on “Layered lives

  1. nursemyra says:

    I remember feeling that way in London too. It’s not until you leave Australia that you realise how YOUNG it is

  2. daisyfae says:

    London is a good place to learn about ‘really old’…. Have never read much Sylvia Plath. After seeing Daddy? Probably a good thing i didn’t back in the formative years. Yikes.

  3. i can never help wonering – towards the end of that poem – how much of ted h was in it? what’s the time line on that… had she met him yet? nevertheless, like father like lover methinks

  4. sometimes i can’t even help wonDering…

    • Dolce says:

      I prefer wonering actually.

      and yeah, Ted. Another one of those fucked up dudes who would have had me knickerless on the floor in 20seconds. And left me wih my head in an oven.

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