On Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and Assia Wevill.
By Anushka Joshi
Illustration by Manya Tam
They both died domestic deaths,
The homewrecker and the housewife.
Both with their heads on the cool
Grate of an oven.
A fuck you to the fifties,
That era of aprons like straitjackets,
Aprons that gleamed white
Like carnivorous teeth, that swallowed up
The lives of women,
Ate them as they cooked.
The mistress worked as an ad-writer, came up
With the slogan “Mr. Kipling’s
Exceedingly good cakes,”
The wife made lemon meringue pies,
Would they have killed themselves
If they didn’t know how to turn
On an oven in the first place?
There are two kinds of mothers in the world,
The Sylvias who switch on the gas
But fold a thin blanket under
The kitchen doorsill
So that it won’t poison their children in the next room.
And the Assias, who do not put a blanket under the doorsill,
Who take their children along with them,
Like stray punctuations on their epitaphs.
In their own ways both protected
The first from death,
The second from life.
The man with whom
They had lain under that blanket
Or under the absence of that blanket,
Was the poet who broke women
Like he broke lines,
Who turned to poetry
When he gave up hunting but never
Quite lost the habit of slaughter.
The kind who leaves a woman
With the tumorous instinct for death
Growing in her gut,
Faster than a fetus.
The kind who, even if
He considered suicide, would
Abandon the thought,
Abandon the house,
Abandon the children there,
Go instead for a walk
Or to make a call,
Forgetting to switch off
The gas at all.