Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath, courtesy of Wikipedia

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This was written for Read Write Poem Prompt #106: Repeat After Me.. Sylvia Plath was my inspiration for this poem, in which I chose to use one of Rethabile’s suggestions for this prompt, repeating an idea. Mine is almost a refrain I think, or variations on a theme. I hope you enjoy the read.


It’s easy,
a burning half-morning light,
so faint that candles cannot even
make love with it lest they disturb the
shadow of amber that it drops onto the wall. And the
pen – there’s a certain rhythm to the
scribble and the scratch, the
hip-hop beat in ancient form

slowed down,
sped up,
running at a half-rhythm with no known meter except for
what is pulsed by the human hand. But yours needed a
balm, a prayer, a roborant of
rest. How you lucubrated, how you oscillated,
a megawatt widow full of beat and bone,
flowing blood jets through your fingers. 3 A.M.,
4 A.M., 5 A.M. soliloquies, flayed off your skin
out of the ear reach of children. It’s

this burning half-morning light,
so wanton and blood-tooth hungry that it
forgets wood and wick and burns
you instead for fuel. How holy
was your fire, your phoenix incantations
chanted by night and paper, chasing the demon of sleep
away from you until you rose up,
a scarlet-haired torch of woman levitating by the magic of
madness and words. And if that were not
holy enough, your flames eschewed mere oxygen and sought
oven gas for air. It’s

this burning half-morning light,
so halcyon that it fails to signal
the freight train,
the demon horse,
Erato turned inside out and painted with Kali. This is
the shaman in negative, shuddering your bones
with his wild death dance. This is
the cobra that steals your spine and slithers into the
empty canal where your straight line of
open-mouthed bone once rested. And it wears
you until you die. I know, because I started

saving up to feed the beast when I was eight. I began
peeling myself off myself, casting
that filthy girl adumbration upon the altar
and blessed her with fire. Executed myself
in endless-loop honor killings until I
thought that girl was gone and Dad would finally
be proud of me: maybe, just maybe, I’d be tough,
a fist-full of angry glee, a ghetto woman of virtue minus
the woman. But my ashes – they kept sticking
in my throat, refusing to be swallowed or stolen
to feed that serpent. So when I was twelve, I started
ejecting them from my throat and reading their tongues
for answers. And it’s

that burning half-morning light,
so merciful that it renames itself Redemption and
swallows up our ash-demanding gods made out of
marble men, ties the
neck of our orphidian beast into knots, yanks that
insane inamorata of frenzy out of our insides so that it
can no longer wear us for skin. You expired in the coffin
at 23 Fitzroy Road before you could see this light, and the beast
left you behind in ashes and red ink shaped like
your father – we have been reading those dirty little piles
of charcoal and scarlet since, trying to
find out how to spell your name. But somehow, I am
still here,
living in that light,
dancing ahead of the hot breath of
the snake. I am

thirty-three now, still reading the ashes that I refused to offer to
my own little Hitler made out of my father’s face,
resurrected draconian demands in my Freudian skull, and
stygian landscapes of memory. And
these days, I drop tears into my cremated gold, then
reach down and try to mold what is left of my powdered little girl
into an ash golem so that no one,
least of all I,
will ever forget her face. And as my
fingers struggle with that wet dust made of me,
I know

that I will never forget
my own.

Written 12/21/09 and 12/22/09
© 2009 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.

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About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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11 Responses to Ashes

  1. Erin says:

    This is so powerful. You do Ms. Plath proud

  2. Paul Oakley says:

    I love this poem, Nicole. Very strong, unrelenting in its depiction of genius and strength mixed terminally with flaw and weakness.

    Right from the first stanza you captured me with:

    a burning half-morning light,
    so faint that candles cannot even
    make love with it lest they disturb the
    shadow of amber that it drops onto the wall.

    Your use of wonderful words like “roborant” is a pleasure to the reading eye. Your depiction of ravenous flame is powerful:

    so wanton and blood-tooth hungry that it
    forgets wood and wick and burns
    you instead for fuel.

    And the frighteningly beautiful image of molding what is left into an ash golem took my breath away.

    Magnificent work and a beautiful encomium to Plath, Nicole.

  3. Neil Reid says:

    Such very robust words and images, and that can barely keep from flying off the page. Intense is understatement to say. And the repetition does work to keep a single thread though out the poem. Thank you Nicole for your labor here.

  4. Tumblewords says:

    Surely an intense and energetic merging of the human foibles. Nicely done!

  5. davidmoolten says:

    I think you do a spot on job with a tough subject. Plath focused so much and so well on herself already, and then so many others have since. But your perspective is different, because you draw a parallel other with the speaker in the poem, and while there is overlap of experience, there is also the benefit of one coming before the other, of perspective based on observation, and reflection, and ultimately there is a sense of resolution and even triumph, which Plath sadly never managed.

  6. Very enjoyable indeed. It’s probably appropriate that I’m reading this at 3AM. There’s so much to this very powerful piece, the interweaving of Plath’s life and the speaker’s, the repeated images of flame and ash, and the refrain of “it’s easy…” though dealing with things that are not easy at all. Great stuff.

  7. karen says:

    There is so much of this that is admirable, not the least the form and imagery. This complex connection of both Plath and the speaker’s situations and the speaker’s triumph is excellently wrought. Coincidentally, I wrote a sestina about Plath recently, but it certainly hasn’t the depth nor pain of this. You might want to take a look, anyway, as I used the phoenix as the central image. It’s at If the link won’t work, it’s in October in my archives – Sylvia Rising.

  8. Irene says:

    The repetition functioned like a caesura before the fire of words leapt again and again and the turn came when the narrator draws a parallel with herself. O how we deal with demons..

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