Your once beloved beau wrote a final collection entitled Birthday Letters that I have yet to read. But I read that today it is your birthday, (though it is actually October 27th) and I might never read those poems because I didn't love
Crow the way I wanted to, and I suppose this is because your voice your poetry, has already possessed me.
You would've been 80 years old.
I said a small, "Happy Birthday," just because. But this wasn't enough because you were a poet and I am writer and I think it is only in the written word that you will feel the sentiments of that birthday wish.
And I wonder what you might've written had you found a way to bottle your illness long enough to make it to today's medicine. I would say today's understanding, but such a thing doesn't seem to exist now. And I wonder if you would've marched last Saturday, the taste of disgust like the bitterness of pills left on the tongue too long without water to ease them down. Would you have plastered a poster with images of bees because your father was Otto, King of the Bees, and he'd taught you long ago that the Queen was meant to be more? More than rights stripped away and choices provided by men who will never know what it is like to feel the moon of a womb or the wane of loss. Would you sit at your computer and vomit a compendium of poetry about the plight of womanhood amidst today's technology and jarring juxtaposition between all we have accomplished and all we choose to forget?
I've wondered a great many things about you.
Sometimes, I think I feel your darkness. And maybe it isn't mine to claim, though that sort of depressive dementedness runs in my blood from a paternal place. Maybe this is the same darkness, which ran in your veins, like ink that takes more than just black to be created; you add the blues and the purples, the bruises no one will ever see because all they know is black and
white. Maybe that substance, whatever you'd like to call it now, floats in the ether of creation before making us into these people, these writers of words and dreams and draconian dependencies that keep us chained to the pen and the promise of splitting our souls for others. Sometimes we call it love or burden or beauty or art.
Oh, Sylvia, I want to open to the pages I've annotated with my own thoughts, but I've left your work at home in exchange for a new novel, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, and a book of poetry called Beautiful Zero. And I never thought I would miss your collections so much because they have been too many places with me.
You do not come to people lightly. It is full on obsession and love because there is something within you that we understand. When you took your life, maybe you erupted into particles reincarnated within us all.
I remember that one poem you wrote, and imagine the people around you as the thoughts filtered in. I remember my poetry professor from my undergrad who never talked about you, and I wonder why. Because he talked about Dickinson and Pound and recited the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and he brought the works of Spicer into my life, and Spicer wrote about Lorca and Alice, but never about you. But you were there in that collection from the Strand, and the dolphin seemed to resurrect you in writing, and you were there in The History of the Unmarried, and I cried a little at the idea of death in that one poem because Mills is scared of the way it might separate him and his love and their love seems more understandable because he writes about movie theaters and Gap sweaters. And maybe I don't want to understand you and Ted because I don't want to see myself in you. And Ted. And the way that one writer broke my heart with the things he'd text and the way he understood my madness and my mind until one day he didn't. We didn't. We never will, and the what if is poetry he will never understand.
There was another poetry professor I had, and he, too, left you off the syllabus because, maybe, you were too much woman for him to handle amidst the poems of woods and nature that bowed down to men and ignored the sacrifice of Mother Earth. And that same professor had a bit of an accent, and he asked us every class what we had observed that day. He was trying to make us better writers. Better poets. And here is what I've observed from my seat on this train: the sound of the cards on the table and the love in the sound of the father's voice. (I remember a similar sound, but I don't.) (Not quite.) The young girl sings. I don’t know the song, but the music sounds like the in-between of childhood and adulthood; something she will hear in the car twenty years from now making her remember this trip to NYC with her father. He sings with her, both so off key that the moment becomes perfect in the imperfection.
I think that is what you would write about today if you were here; perfect must be flawed or else our eyes would be burned by the sight of the godliness. The sacrament of a song that is not real could be Holy under the right circumstances. And maybe you would write a poem in which this father tells his girl that she is enough because she is, explaining that others will never have to be if she feels herself whole. Maybe he will discuss the female circumstance of having a voice and not using it because his wife grew up in a traditional household, and maybe she voted for he who must not be named, but the father doesn't hate her. He can't hate her. But he can't understand her either. And maybe he won't say this to his daughter, because maybe, it is about the things we say and the things we don't. When the girl frowns at her thin arms, and the way she can't lift her suitcase into the overhead compartment, admitting this makes her feels weak, the father will explain that being slight is nothing she can control, but that one day she might be filled with enough power to paper her walls in poetry and dreams because in the end those are the same thing. And he will smile at the way she sings her own song because that means she is enough.
You were enough, Sylvia.
Enough for all of us who read your words. Enough for yourself. And your poetry exists as a reminder of the way Lady Lazarus and Ariel broke through the barriers to be a force, not a frailty.
In these tumultuous days, with grey skies overhead that look too much like nature in mourning, your brashness is something to bring us back to bone, to remind us we are strong. And maybe they would call you nasty, tweet at you with little regard for the things you've endured. And maybe some would just say, "Happy Birthday." I can only leave these possibilities as wonderings in a post you will never get to read.