Who is Edward you may ask? A Yorkshire boy. A poet, an imaginative writer. Sylvia’s Plath’s husband.
My Edward comes to me in this world of all places that is meant for dead poets, and animals.
It is a world that is meant for humanity, and magical thought-foxes, otherworldly wrens and owls who before the North American genocide of the Native Americans, granted tribes shamanic wisdom, took their place upon a totem pole. It is a world made for ancestors and gold, minerals and modern society, a blue eye and the blues, justice and jazz, nature’s code, leaves anchored and not anchored to trees, to blades of grass, the wind’s song (a journey to the past, future living, soul retrieval, present survival). And then there is the rural countryside filled with patches of grass, the history of how to grow pomegranates, catch fish, the heritage of ruins, rain pouring down like a ritual taking its place in the hierarchy of the food chain, seasons that come upon us and pass, steps, leaps, stars, human stains, animal stains, blood, shark teeth, a school of fish, whales. This world is meant for sessions of personal injury, hurt, deep pain, smiling laughter, you calling your daughter darling, the grim existence, and the caged existence of the young poet. I am capable (every young poet is) even though the cigarette smoke’s vapour’s injury starts with a mocking signal. I am not lost. Bold Heaven is pulling at vital me.
I am a Romantic as I become more and more curious and the objects around me transfix me.
The Death of a relationship is in the air like horses in a race to the finish line, an aloe’s sap and tears, mirrors, your reflections, encounters with angels above and angels below on the earth’s alchemic plane as consciousness travels the globe, alongside the dimensions of spirit, the elements of soul. Edward is the music that has shaped my nutritious isolation, my night swimming, my eternal waiting, and my frantic, hysterical weeping. My night swimming comes with its own frequency and rhythm. My limbs take on a life of its own (so poetic, I am guarded against humanity, my imagination, inspiration, the Milky Way, the knowledge of other galaxies, the light of the shy laughter of a couple not far off from me swimming in the dark), suspended between the pull of gravity on earth’s plane and other parallel dimensions. The parallel dimension of my pure, virginal flesh and intricate blood, my dreams and goals, the gift of my personal space that most private area, an arena that so few have viewed. Daughters do not always become mothers. Mothers are not perfect. They have their flaws. Ordinary mothers. Extraordinary mothers. Put them in a box. Every goddess-mother. I see my mother’s brilliance.
I pick a valuable and beautiful object up and suddenly I’m transported to the room in a mansion.
And then shut Pandora’s Box. Plant a flag there. If only God could hand out a medal for every birth-pang. Every mother has had an Edward, pulled funny faces when she was a child, held a cloud of a helium-filled balloon in her fist by its string before it became a shred, dreamed of a childhood continued when she became a youth in her sleep, as she paged through fashion magazines reading her horoscope not knowing yet that her future was predestined, that she was predestined to be a sexual object on her wedding night, a friend and confidante when she was wooed by her future husband, that her eldest daughter would be a failure, her second a major success and her third child would be a Scout, a quiet, bookish, loner as a boy who suffered from asthma and a beautiful intellectual, funny and sweet, a deeply imaginative-thinker, oh-so-serious who would be charming and artistic, sensitive and understanding as he grew older, and that this introverted leader would be both spiritual and show humility when it was called for in political meetings, a man after Winston Churchill’s and Abraham Lincoln’s own heart. Betrayal is lethal. Plath a gone girl in young womanhood reaching dazzling heights like me.
Live or die. Those were Anne Sexton’s words. Pure. Introspective. A haunting interpretation.
Yet their craft and bittersweet verse still defies terrifying and manipulative electricity, attachment, movement. Clever girls. You were no women in black. I put my suicidal illness inside a jar like a butterfly and leave it there for the moment. I escape into the pages of my journal, those hard lines, the physical, emotional, and mental appetite beckoning. The creamy landscape changes every day in leaps from green. Once I was in pursuit of Edward, advancing upon him, closer to the flame in his psychological framework’s psyche, harvesting his cool gaze, that tower, that secret winter. His throne burns me, my guilt flares lap after lap in the Olympic-sized local swimming pool like diamonds in the sky marking the distance to the stairway to Heaven, the ladder to the Milky Way. Edward sits at my table, field mice in the kitchen, tails between their legs in the universal-solitary-shape of death after being wounded by the mousetrap, no survival guide for them, escape-route, seductive exit and their whiskers no longer move baffled by the world around them, there’s just an ode to the mute and I begin reading my letter from home that serves to improve the fragile, loved half-lie I’ve been living.
Where, when did Pablo Neruda find the time to write twenty love poems and a song of despair?
Edward is in my life again. I’m staring at his photograph. He comes to me as if in a dream sequence. The years have changed us. He is even more handsome than I remembered in my wishful-consciousness-thinking. I remember going back to the city’s elements. The watery-prophetic eyes of women and children, decay, dirt, spiritual poverty and that there’s nothing pretty or picturesque about the pain of the mind. It can be more acute than the pain of the body. Johannesburg is Hemingway’s Paris. A psychological construct made up of childhood dialogue, the female writer who speaks in code, the young women who would slip away in the early hours of the morning arm-in-arm with their dream man of the night after a nightclub closed. Johannesburg was a Freedom Land’s anchor, a feast where the abnormal became normal, running with scissors, poetry in my twenties, knives, guns in the air. Sacrifice is not effortless. Midnight is but a voyage into the goal of a dream. Laughter keeps me alive. I seem to have been born with this intuition. Edward the exceptional, the extraordinary, brilliant genius with his cigarettes, stale smoke and moustache. Boats have become arks. Girls quiet women.
Here there are no ducks in the park in their own world of silence marking time with their song.
My sister adores her reflection, her face is a lake, the face of a scholarship girl. I watch her swallow shiny things, flicker, go up in flames, rise towards truth in the flesh and the spirit, her celestial madness and I ask myself does she never feel fear or vulnerable, does she never meditate on the sun only on our silence. She was a pianist when she was younger, tap-tap-tapping the clouds of the keys. I can only survive with the memory of my Edward. I can no longer kill the sirens with their elegant-shapes. The sirens who slit their wrists, jump off bridges, leave the car running, and hang themselves. They’re becoming as rare as the rainforest, pilgrims. Perhaps they were too pure for this world, the heat of their sensitivity could not withstand dissolving in water, withstand a pilgrimage, listening to the noise in a glitter-ball-world, arrows of ballads flying through the air landing at their feet like dew, sounding like a symphony or Beethoven. Every dress, every heel, silk stockings, perfume is a gift but who will receive them? Daughters? Orphans? The Salvation Army? A fete’s jumble sale? Is it for a wedding, a baby’s christening? Beautiful women become ghosts of themselves like leaves.
Weaving delicious spice sinking inside a pot, I concentrate on the bowl, open my mouth wide.
A cardamom pod. A green bitter capsule floating, winking in warm milk, white rice and tapioca. I have no sister. She is as dead to me as I am most probably to her. This empty vessel has melted away into the distance. Pink is my favourite colour. The walls, the walls, the walls have eyes. I am walking on the beach. I sit down on the warm sand, there’s something loving about it, my physical body dissolves in it, my hands takes on the texture of the sand, my soft shoes in my hand. I have pebbles in my hand. Where have they come from? I don’t remember the history of all of this salt, and this light. I don’t need food only the marriage of bread and butter and piping-hot tea, wet masala that perfects a steaming curry with cinnamon sticks folded into it to take the warmness away. Loving, losing, living, laughter can be harsh sometimes, the brightness of sadness, illumined loneliness. I am a cup. Turn it over and you will discover it is empty of a spell. There is only the image of the cup that envelops my mind’s eye. I’m done with being distracted by ego and diaries. I’m done, I’m through with married men. No matter how distinguished they might seem to be on the surface. Stiffs, veterans, and the family man.
I am not Edward’s wife. He is dead to me. Look how he decomposes. My cries brood, roost.
Watch how the flowers glow on his grave, scorch my possessive grip. Watch how the petals fall, the foliage wilts, the grass grows like difficulties, a thin scar that still wounds, once this man was a pearl, wise beyond his years who taught me to invoke British Poet Laureates, Rilke, Goethe, Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Wilde, Woolf, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates and Carol Ann Duffy. Edward has turned me into an invalid who takes naps in the heat of a post-apartheid African Renaissance South African afternoon. He is more than an illusion. He is a man dressed in black, in snakeskin cowboy boots, staring at me with snake eyes, covering me with a shroud, touching me with angelic hands, his voice an instrument pushing buttons, accomplishing everything that his mind has set out to do with a quiet, unwavering, bewildering intelligence. Old-fashioned seduction. The path of least resistance. I too am now an empty vessel, axed, amped, and well-established in observation. Edward’s wife is the poet Sylvia. On her wedding day she was the blushing bride who stroked the cream frill at her collarbone, starved herself because she was so nervous, oil on her hands, a veil to cover her virginal face from her groom.
Sylvia wears gloves and silk stockings. Sylvia writes protest poetry. Sylvia is a defiant feminist.
Her scent is in the air, fixed. She didn’t know yet she was in for a wild ride. A woman, a daughter and mother can’t cure everything. I knew his wife had merit. I knew she had her pans, her cooking pots, and her kitchen and that she slept like a perfumed queen in their house, in their bedroom and when daylight multiplied through the curtains she would pull them open, go downstairs, make tea, prepare breakfast. He was making love to her. He was making love to me. She was educated. She had been to Smith College and Cambridge. I knew his wife had love but I masked it with a million winters you see I just wasn’t up for it. I knew him through-and-through, inside and out. He was so pure. Like light in the sameness of a forest, or fluid in a glass or a child sucking on drops of butterscotch. Life is pure but his promises weren’t. It is easy to regard the olive branch as a symbol of peace but all I can see now is how shallow you’ve been, how precocious your Sylvia is. How much more articulate and brilliant she is than me. Alice Munro is coming through now. She is coming through with Doris Lessing. Others will think that there is something sinister about spirit guides, mediums and clairvoyants. I listen. All the time Sylvia, Sylvia, playing like a stuck record. She was no thief like I was ousted as.
Sylvia is a woman ahead of her time. The door, and that gap between us, closure happens in the light. Who would have thought the living and the dead, the earth-plane and the spiritual-plane could connect, but such contrasts though are projected sanely and with clarity of vision and thought through a guide’s orbit. It is not me Emma who walks on the water, crossing it from river-sea to the burden and the anger of another river-sea. It is not Emma who is worth her weight in gold, sensual in a quiet way, who wrote about gender giftedly, who had wonder guts, a brutal country to call her own and wrote both with a lethal and pure spirit, boldly, brilliantly who silenced the war poets, old men, the living and the dead. It is Sylvia Plath’s wonderland.