“The Birthday Present”; Or, Sylvia Plath at 81

For Linda Wagner-Martin

A version of this essay appears in the 11 February 2015 edition of the Gray Matters section of The Houston Chronicle.  Today Sylvia Plath took her own life in 1963.  Here is the link:


Sylvia, you were so young.


If you had lived, you might have been on a television show, with Oprah fawning all over you, cooing about your brilliant career.  You might have been a spokesperson for so many things:  surviving infidelity, channeling betrayal into art, smiling while winning awards for spinning out words.  You would have known something about multitasking. You could have helped others live Their Best Life Now, or something close to it.  You might have been an endowed chair at a university and taught whenever you felt like it.  You might have said things like “I have never felt more alive” and had a line or two about knives and lying to prove your point.

You could have written poems about your tragedies, and how they leave one reeling, but then there is a center, and it holds, and then it is flying, not reeling.  Similar, but new.  I know you loved Yeats.

Today, Lady Lazarus, you are going viral, again, pictures of you, poems, references to The Bell Jar.  You are a chameleon: pretty, happy, morbid, overwhelmed, on the verge of tears, triumphant.  Everything but old.  You sure could go for the jugular, even when everyone was saying “don’t.” Continue reading