If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!
Unsurprisingly, flowers and botanical concerns featured heavily in the responses to Plath’s “Poppies in July.” Even so, these poems unravel the common thread of this image and pull in many other influences.
What malice do you conceal?
You burst. I can’t swallow your crimson seeds.
I choke on your spongy membrane, inedible peel.
And, I tire hearing your mythical tales of love’s abduction
Offering eternity like a ravenous tapeworm.
A ripe scarlet flesh I can’t mouth.
Once tasted, sensuality bloodies my life.
Fatal fruit I dare to lick your promiscuity,
tease-out your surrogate narcotic capsule.
Wetted in milt, your seeded weapon ticks,
stunning and numbing.
Yet, ashes. Ashes!
About the Poem
Re-Reading Plath’s “Poppies in July” brought to my mind pomegranates. Both of these plants have held a fascination for me as they are deeply rooted in myth and symbolism. When I sat down to write, my intention was to use something not in the botanical realm. Yet, pomegranates kept appearing as I browsed through my collection of art books. I often find perusing photos or cultural/ tribal works of art a good approach for leaping into writing poetry.
So, I leapt into the world of pomegranates using Plath’s seven couplets form, with one lonely sparse line at the end. I admired her use of everyday speech and the use of a speaker addressing a dead, or absent person or inanimate object (apostrophe). I attempted to follow these techniques as I found them more engaging and challenging.
even though she abandoned her awareness,
her permission; her attention closing off
like the face of a great unknowable flower.
And the days lift a little as though prying off
a tombstone that had stealthily slid down over her
and she sees her daughter and knows what is untouchable.
What has been and will be glow outside
the perimeter of her present self, and sometimes
the gem-like surface of the self is smooth
though other times it cuts the air caught.
Things can’t be preserved but they can be protected
and she her lifts hands in the air to raise
the bloodied fence that will surround her child,
her work, her love—her love
is petrified and regrown eventually,
life after life.
About the Poem
I’ve always loved “Poppies in July,” and was interested in the idea of writing around the image of a bloodied mouth. I consider this poem to be a very rough draft but feel open to sharing it anyway!
When I think of a mouth I think of an art form like music or poetry returning to you after a long period of grief or disengagement. You start feeling better and art returns. Sometimes I close myself off to the world on purpose in the interest of self-protection, but that tends to hurt more than letting a feeling take its natural course. I think it’s fair to say, “there are fumes I cannot touch,” and like Plath, I want to. I love her exasperation: “If I could bleed, or sleep!” Relatable.
I borrowed Plath’s “bloodied” and repetition in the last line, and had fun working those elements into the structure. Flowers made their way into this poem, and I was surprised to find that her poem “The Other” showed up here as well. Reflecting on this, I see that there are two selves in this poem: the self that is vulnerable and afraid, and the self that steps in to incite courage, protection, and interest beyond oneself.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
poppy-seed bagels every morning,
a schmear of strawberry cream cheese or
a slab of luscious lox. Pink things
for her ruby-red lipsticked mouth
(a shade picked to match her shoes)
and for Toto, chunks of raw meat
chewed to a pulp.
About the poem
I hope my fellow Plath fans won’t be horrified that “Poppies in July” made me think of “The Wizard of Oz” and its famous scene with Dorothy in the poppy field. Along with that, I took Megan and Leenie’s advice to focus on the image of a bloodied mouth, as well as the colors red and pink. My poem is an attempt at placing the Dorothy character (who could be any woman, really) in a different, less wholesome, context.
I rarely take the book out of the box, but today
it seems necessary the way the trip to Taos
did for the harvest festival at the Pueblo
in 1987, year after her death.
Red Poppy, 1927, page one, small on a large
white page, a red really orange, blood orange,
Steiglitz still enthralled, photographs her hands
that want to dig a garden for the spiny seeds.
Page 46, Poppy, 1927, a strangle of face
in the black center, puff of purple eyes,
purple nose rounded as if a clown, pale
blue of crescent moon of chin, no mouth,
blood draining away to white cloth
of surrender in the sky. I want to look away,
but cannot, the way a forest fire races down
the side of a mountain to where you live.
Red Poppy No.VI, 1928, not seven of craps,
black center with blades of fan in a breeze
that harbor a sand dollar with more sides,
orange flowing into yellow and rouged pinks.
On page 71, Oriental Poppies, 1928, embrace,
shell of center occluded by beard of the other,
this before the first trip to New Mexico,
before hands on steering wheel and bones.
Poppies, 1950, 95 of 100, peach has replaced
what in the past was the drug that held her East
and the shell has scalloped in an irregular pattern.
Not 100, but this, the last date in the book.
About the Poem
“Poppies in July” brought a rush of the images of Georgia O’Keeffe, who left Stieglitz behind in New York for the more rarified air of New Mexico after his affairs became hard to bear up close. It made me wish Plath had had the high desert instead of a London flat.
Madeleine Barnes is a writer and visual artist from Pittsburgh, PA. Her poems have appeared in Pleiades, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Fields Magazine, The Rattling Wall, The Literary Nest, Jai-Alai Magazine, and other places. She is a recipient of a New York State Summer Writers Institute Fellowship and the Princeton Poetry Prize. Her chapbook, The Mark My Body Draws in Light, was published in 2014, and her artwork has appeared on past covers of Washington Square Review, Cimarron Review, and Boxcar Poetry Review. She earned her MFA from New York University. Find her at madeleinebarnes.com.
Lisa DeSiro is the author of the chapbook Grief Dreams (White Knuckle Press, 2017). Her poems have also been published in two anthologies and many journals, and have been set to music by several composers. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Read more about her at thepoetpianist.com.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO. Her collections include This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017); So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015); Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014); My Visions Are As Real As Your Movies, Joan of Arc Says to Rudolph Valentino (dancing girl press, 2013); and George Sand’s Haiti (co-winner of Poetry West’s 2012 award). Granted two residencies in poetry from the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), she is one of eight members of the Boiler House Poets who perform and study at the museum. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
Ina Solum is a writer, a traveller, and lover of words. She was born in Pasadena California and has lived, written and taught in Guatemala, Fiji, Australia, British Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Vanuatu. Her poetry and short stories have been published in local magazines and newspapers. She now lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she is an active member of Magic Theatre Poetry Reading. Currently, Ina is working on her novel, Kleva in Time, which is centered on a sorcerer and his village’s obsession with a creation myth.