Author's Note “Plath’s Father,” is a response to “Daddy,” one of the most anthologized poems in the English language. I’ve had trouble with “Daddy” (the poem) for decades, which may account for this satire noire structured on Plath’s poem in its use of quintains and (infantile) rhyme scheme, delivering a rather late admonishment, which I hope carries some element of ironic amusement. "Daddy" remains a poem of contention and polarization for many understandable reasons. Perhaps this poem will add to the disputes surrounding her original. Let's hope so. "Plath's Father" originally appeared late last year in The Satirist.
It’s good you died when you did, or you would have lived to see your darling daughter’s demise in her prime, with two little ones in the next room, precious as honey in a hive. But you escaped—talk about an act of god—in medias res—something I suppose that was itself a justified grace. She beat you up, you know, your daughter did in her letter to the dead. To the scholar of the bumblebee, let’s set the record straight: you no more had ‘a love of the rack and screw’ than your daughter was ‘poor and white’ or you, a brute. It doesn’t quite seem to mix Panzer-man and Harvard entomologist, or the German language ‘obscene’. It was the language your parents spoke before making the love that was you. It was the language of Bonhoeffer and Rilke— you were closer to their ilk— than what your daughter made of you. It was the language of my father too, interrogated like you, accused when muscled from a train with his designs, a tube of blueprints for aircraft executives during World War II. The FBI suspected him as they suspected you, and ended up with nothing other than sinister suggestions to justify their indiscretions, and like you, was never a military man, neither abuser or abused by family but by the conjectures of a Government that never seem to end, and like you, sent from position to position for his last name, and what is born of that? What’s in a name? A life’s work. Exclusion. And Sylvia, as long as I’m writing letters, I’ll write one to you. Yes, it’s true, it’s over, you’re through, your Daddy is dead twice over, a manic overkill. A poem’s epitaph that will stand-in for the man, an anthem for strangers everywhere, high with hate and cant, yours was an adolescent’s rant. Still we forgive our saints for what they do just as we forgive you for being you. We might even say it wasn’t true, it wasn’t really you writing him off as you did out of hate, for him having left you alone through no fault of his own. A perfect life you said before the age of eight, an impossible garden behind a locked gate gone to weed. So much for what I’ve said, so much for letters to the dead.
©2020 Michael Gessner
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