Plath at the Pillar

A poem by Alan Weltzien

In black stencil Sylvia stares at passing joggers or drivers
from the central concrete pillar anchoring the northbound interstate
lanes along Reeder St.’s north edge in my small college town
where few know her brilliant stanzas or famous suicide.

Few return her steady gaze. It’s that famous head shot,
her strawberry blonde hair, now dark, frames and swings
around her face, a wavy 1950s style; she stares and challenges
you, her lips pursed, sensuously poised, and below her chin,

her surname announces her identity like an old-fashioned
“Wanted’ poster, the “A,” lone central vowel, a black triangle
over a low hyphen, the whole two-dimensional yet wrapped
on the light grey gentling curve. How long has Plath adorned

this west edge of a town which harbors a handful of poets,
less who have been burned by her verse? How many days,
months have I passed before she caught me? Which English
majors applied her face to watch over the underpass?

Gone over half a century, she casts an abiding spell over
students, particularly women. When I watch her I remember
countless images from Hughes’ Birthday Poems published
just months before his death, of a presence demanding

adjectives like chimerical, mercurial, witty, dazzling, unstable.
Or I hear her recording of “Daddy,” a polished formidable voice
belonging to a queen dispensing vowels and stresses as favors,
capturing us utterly as thralls. Her tight lines smoke like dry

ice, her metaphors as virtuosic as that voice cut off barely
in her prime. No bearded outlaw or rocker graces this gallery,
only Sylvia, a bright confessional flame whose poems sear
our hearts and who now watches people—lonely tribute--

in a town and state ignorant of her blaze but too often,
like her, ready to end it all.

Alan Weltzien, longtime English professor at The University of Montana Western (Dillon, MT), has published dozens of articles and eight books, including a memoir, A Father and an Island (2008), and two books of poetry, most recently The Snowpeaks (2013). Weltzien still skis in winter and scrambles peaks in summer.

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