“Dying / is an art, like everything else. / I do it exceptionally well.”
– Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”
“And four black feet deep with/ Summer’s rotting rooks/ like Thomas Head’s and my time’s/
Unlamented, springless, passed.”
– Assia Guttman Wevill, “Winter-End, Hertfordshire”
(quoted in Guardian Unlimited. Saturday April 10, 1999)
When we first met you said you felt like a shadow
had passed over you when you rushed to be married.
You told me settling down with an unstable wife left
you drained, you felt burdened by your son and daughter,
that my beauty was exotic inspiration for a poet,
that your marriage had been career suicide.
Concerned by your wife’s prior attempts at suicide
you said to hide our live, coyly and conflicted in the shadows.
I worshipped you and your skill as a poet
and your words soon made me forget I was married.
Like forsaken Calypso, Atlas’ daughter,
I died each time my wandering Ulysses left.
But then finally, one day, it was HER you left.
You admitted your marriage was like slowly committing suicide
and walked away from your son and daughter
to free yourself from her world of shadows.
For you, I turned my back on the man I married
with dreams of an inspiring love between equal poets.
I had struggled all of my life to become a poet,
for all I’d experienced, all that inspired you, to be left
as a mark on the world. I hoped someday we might be married.
But everything changed when your wife committed suicide,
found on the cold floor in the oven doors shadow,
leaving only a snack and air for your dreaming son and daughter.
We tried to become a whole family, added our own daughter.
But then I was relegated to translating YOUR favorite poets,
suddenly you had yet another woman in the shadows,
I was villified by the few friends you had left,
those who blamed me for your wife’s suicide,
and I knew then despite my dreams we’d never be married.
I will always be the Other Woman, your whore, never married.
You don’t defend me, you don’t acknowledge our own daughter,
and I’m exhausted from being blamed for your wife’s suicide.
I realize now I won’t ever be allowed to be a poet.
To be your wife and a poet, that’s all I wanted, yet I am left
with nothing. My life is only empty shadows
compared to the one you married. She’s the Great Poet.
But unlike her, I took our daughter with me when I left.
For, even now, in suicide, we can’t escape your wife’s shadow.