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Kevin Dublin


These are a selection of poems from a longer series titled "Courting Sylvia Plath," where I insert a black lover into Sylvia Plath's life, in part, to confront how she writes about Blackness/Whiteness in her poetry, fiction, and journals. For more on the critical side of the discussion about Plath's problematic representations of Blackness and how she uses whiteness as a marked characteristic, start with the section about her in Renee R. Curry's White Women Writing White: H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Whiteness (Praeger, 2000). I like her writing as writing (her use of metaphor has taught me a lot), but her representations of Blackness have issues or are somewhat sexualized. This is mostly overlooked when discussing her work and it's because of her own privilege as a victimized white woman. My series of poems exist as a sort of zero sum game next to her work—a similar energy which takes into account a socialized black masculine gaze just as Shawn Michelle Smith writes about in "Second-Sight: Du Bois and the Black Masculine Gaze" from Next to the Color Line: Gender, Sexuality, and W.E.B. Du Bois (U of Minnesota Press, 2007):

"The color line is brought home to Du Bois, made intimate and self-transforming through the vehicle of a white girl's gaze. The assumed cultural privilege of a masculine gaze is trumped by race in this scene, as whiteness bestows the prerogative of looking (and refusing to look) on the white girl … But Du Bois quickly reminds readers that the bifurcated gaze of double consciousness does not only look inward at the newly figured double self, but also outward, at the white world, at those who would look and deny him the gaze."

I. While Serving the Party, 1953

Our attraction
is baboon.
Heart drums
beneath my vest;
your back arches
outward breasts.

Twirl dull brown
ringlets 'round fingers,
saunter from dim glow
into shadows.
Curl pointer;
grit into lower lip.

Suits and dresses wade
outside our corner;
their twaddle mimics depth.

My niggereyes cast hooks.
We argue Christ:
you reel closer.
Tell me of your father:
I laugh, ask for his foot.

Red ribbon scintillates
in your locks—
matches cheeks.

Glare. Glare like
upper lip yanked upwards.

My hand between
your ass and a wall—
sting it away.

I may grant levity,
award fantasy;
you may pretend
pale negritude, but
I know you will submit:
you will moan,
call it niggerdick,
remove yourself, turn,
devour it.

I will empty darkness
via teeth into your face.


Your stained chin
will be evidence.

IV. At a Euro Café in East Village, 1954

The squint of a mother
who trundles carriage by
squirms you.

You nod as if you'd never,
lower your head to sip,
then sip, say the only thing
to come now is the sea
. Men—
brown men, dark men—
no, all men know
your ways raise waves
which topple large vessels.

Yet, I listen.
You tell me of a novel
planned in your head,
a poetry manuscript;
you worry they're only you.
You worry of eyeballs
latched to backs like babies
tight to nipples.

You feign fearlessness,
contrast your hand atop mine
until the busboy returns.
When he leaves, I return
my hands, burnt turkey,
into pockets.

Your eyes flounder,
gasp, you'd do the same
if you understood,
some day, I must
decide to be all right again.

VI. To London, 1962

I drive I-95 South to North Carolina onto rural highways. I see the green, the veil of long leaf pines—their hearty bark slightly greyed by sunlight. The Tar River with its standing and collapsed cypress trees along the banks shines brown. Further down, just before the canopied, muddy bosom of the Neuse, is a town where my grandfather no longer lives. He has left me all his belongings along with this land.

The Ouija would scrawl
when I asked about summer:
your name, then London.

I live meagerly in an Earls Court bedsit from the end of July onward. There is nothing but a feeling of splendid indifference in most everyone: a monochromatic humanity from nearblack to offwhite. First I try theatres, then bookstores and parks. I am sucked into metropolis so much that I forget my purpose and take to walks in fields.

Well, I had until
on a hill in September.
I see you strolling:

Not alone, you have your own carriage now, trundling, blanket used as a shield from sunlight. Sylvia? I mutter, and can't quite imagine this woman. But on that bald hill, above heath grass glittering under a stiff gull's drift, I know it's your nose and eyes and lips. It must've been pointless to think of you at all. You squint and smile; I wave.

Your uncanny hug,
idle like a spider's death:
arms open, then close.

As your children sleep, we chat. We trade journal habits on a bench. You tell me of your love like a jewel in prison—your husband, his affairs, your escape from his darkness. My mind wants to ask—my lips have other ideas, but the brain wins. I ask if you believe the supernatural—I give you an opal necklace, ask you wear it when you write because it grants foresight and will shine against your neck. You ask, and what of depression? I answer, there's another treatment for that. The mind loses. Death fastens one button over your spirit. If we begin, I know:

like a honeybee
without a winter cluster,
you won't taste the spring.

VII. An Affair on Hampstead Heath, 1962

Dried earth and sprawling thicket
Fox have hunted here
Dusted air pouncing young hare
Gnashed teeth to dingy fur
Drug broken-necked prey to nooks
Between the roots of trees

Now food comes scarce
Fox skulk wander
Scavenge in light-pollution
Turn refuse from bins
Into satisfaction

Beneath my splayed jacket
Blood once smeared cracked dirt
And cross-bitten branches

I like how moon lights
The fore of your head
Then tips of your tresses
As you bob
I am unsteadied by your grind
Your tightened quiver
My palms filled with rump's flesh

X. Fragments, 1963

A childhood near the ocean
whisper of you'll never pray again
washes up into the garden

We have suffered each other in
that hazy, blue, almost eternal hour
before heliotrope's seeking

Your self-importance is yours
to waft as is my own.

What we want back
is what was, but we know:

One half of your heart
between jowls.

My whole heart
clawed out and cupped.

There is no other hand
to lift the soul up.

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