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“I saw the rolling lawns of our town cemetery, knee-deep in snow now, with the tombstones rising out of it like smokeless chimneys.

“There would be a black, six-foot-deep gap hacked in the hard ground. That shadow would marry this shadow…

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart.

“I am, I am, I am.”

- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“The room blued into view, and I wondered where the night had gone. My mother turned from a foggy log into a slumbering, middle-aged woman…”

- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York… The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers… It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.”

- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“After being conditioned as a child to the lovely never-never land of magic, of fairy queens and virginal maidens, of little princes and their rose bushes, of poignant bears and Eyore-ish donkeys… of the magic wand, and the faultless illustrations… of Griselda in her feather-cloak, walking barefoot with the Cuckoo in the lantern-lit world of nodding Mandarins, – of Delight in her flower-garden with the slim-limbed flower sprites, – of the Hobbit and the dwarves, gold-belted with blue and purple hoods, drinking ale and singing of dragons in caverns of the valley – all this I knew, and felt, and believed. All this was my life when I was young. To go from this to the world of “grown-up” reality. To feel the tender skin of sensitive child-fingers thicken; to feel the sex organs develop and call loud to the flesh; to become aware of school, exams, bread and butter, marriage, sex, compatibility, war, economics, death and self. What a pathetic blighting of the beauty and reality of childhood.

“Not to be sentimental, as I sound, but why the hell are we conditioned into the smooth strawberry-and-cream Mother-Goose-world, Alice-in-Wonderland fable, only to be broken on the wheel as we grow older and become aware of ourselves as individuals with a dull responsibility in life? * to learn snide and smutty meanings of words you once loved, like “fairy.” * to go to college fraternity parties where a boy buries his face in your neck or tries to rape you if he isn’t satisfied with burying his fingers in the flesh of your breast. * to be aware that you must compete somehow, and yet that wealth and beauty are not in your realm. * to learn that a boy will make a careless remark about “your side of town” as he drives you to a roadhouse in his father’s latest chromium-plated convertible. * to learn that you might have been more of an “artist” than you are if you had been born into a family of wealthy intellectuals. * to learn that you can’t be a revolutionary. * to learn that while you dream and believe in Utopia, you will scratch & scrabble for your daily bread in your home and be damn glad if there’s butter on it. * to learn that money makes life smooth in some ways, and o feel how tight and threadbare life is if you have too little. * to despise money, which is a farce, mere paper, and to hate what you have to do for it, and yet to long to have it in order to be free from slaving for it. * to yearn toward art, music, ballet and good books, and get them only in tantalizing snatches. * to yearn for an organism of the opposite sex to comprehend and heighten your thoughts and instincts, and to realize that most American males worship woman as a sex machine with rounded breasts and a convenient opening in the vagina, as a painted doll who shouldn’t have a thought in her pretty head other than cooking a steak dinner and comforting him in bed after a hard 9-5 day at a routine business job. * to realize that there are some men who like a girl as a companion in mind as well as body. * to realize that just as you will meet one of the few whom you could learn to be companionable with, the War of Double Hate will blow his guts out for the sake of shedding the light of freedom on the darkened half of the oppressed people of the world. * to study the futility of war, and read the UN charter, and then to hear the announcer on the radio blithely announce “The stars and stripes march” for our courageous fighting forces. * to know that there is a mental hospital on the hill in the back of the college. * to know that for those qualities I covet in others, those same others covet qualities in still others. * to know that millions of others are unhappy and that life is a gentleman’s agreement to grin and paint your face gay so others will feel they are silly to be unhappy, and try to catch the contagion of joy, while inside so many are dying of bitterness and unfulfillment * to take a walk with Marcia Brown and love her for her exuberance, to catch some of it, because it’s real, and once again love life day by day, color by color, touch by touch, because you’ve got a body & mind to exercise, and that is your lot, to exercise & use it as much as you can, never mind whose got a better or worse body & mind, but stretch yours as far as you can.”

- Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it–

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?–

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot–
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart–
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash–
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

- Sylvia Plath

…Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women —-
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanis walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

- Sylvia Plath

I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.

The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can’t keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.

How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appals me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.

They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

The box is only temporary.

- Sylvia Plath

as black as a hook,
overtakes me.
Each day,
each Nazi
took, at 8: 00 A.M., a baby
and sauteed him for breakfast
in his frying pan.

And death looks on with a casual eye
and picks at the dirt under his fingernail.

Man is evil,
I say aloud.
Man is a flower
that should be burnt,
I say aloud.
is a bird full of mud,
I say aloud.

And death looks on with a casual eye
and scratches his anus.

Man with his small pink toes,
with his miraculous fingers
is not a temple
but an outhouse,
I say aloud.
Let man never again raise his teacup.
Let man never again write a book.
Let man never again put on his shoe.
Let man never again raise his eyes,
on a soft July night.
Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.
I say those things aloud.

I beg the Lord not to hear.

- Anne Sexton

“In their homelands, they were West Africans and West Europeans whose identities were determined by culture, heritage, region, but in this mixed new country, skin itself has currency as meaning, and they become black and whites. the whites who were at the bottom of the social ladder in Europe now have someone lower than them, and a lot of them seem to like it that way; they live for centuries in highly structured suspicion and interconnection.

“The ballads and rhythms of their musics mix with least inhibition, and in the twentieth century new indigenous musics evolve, out of the red dirt, the strong African and maybe Native American beats and rhythms, the Celtic melancholy, into the hillbilly music cleaned up as country and western, and into blues and rhythm and blues. They all dovetail as rock and roll, a medium that spreads less like imperialism than like the potato and becomes a local crop all over the world, particularly the English-speaking world, a local crop that expresses the insurrection of the young against tradition and authority, of the margin against the center, and that sometimes becomes an institution itself, like U2 in Ireland. The melancholy and the exuberance of slaves and outsiders have come, or come back, to Ireland.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Home, the site of all childhood’s revelations and sufferings, changes irrevocably, so that we are all in some sense refugees from a lost world. But you can’t ever leave home either; it takes root inside you and the very idea of self as an entity bounded by the borders of the skin is a fiction disguising the vast geographies contained under the skin that will never let you go. It is, if nothing else, the first ruler by which everything else will be measured, the place by which other places will be found hot or cold, bustling or serene, lush or stark. When I think back to my formation, it seems that landscape shaped me, made a home in the truer sense than the centerless house in the subdivision and an identity surer than the vague hints of familial and ethnic history than came my way.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Most stories are travel stories, and in traveling our lives begin to assume the shape of a story. It may be because a journey is so often a metaphor for life itself that journeying is satisfying.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“The last display in this inanimate animal kingdom brought me back to Swift and his speculations on the human animal and its place on earth, or lack thereof. In the very back of the Natural History Museum in Dublin, the last case you’d come to, were four skeletons: a chimpanzee, an ‘Orang Utan,’ a gorilla, and a man… The apes were propped up by black rods attached to their spines and bolted to the floor, but the man was suspended from the ceiling by a golden chain attached to his skull with a wing nut. The installation seemed to propose that human and ape anatomies are analogous, but their essences are utterly different, that animals rise from the earth, but humans dangle from the heavens like God’s puppets, touching the ground but disconnected from it, strangers on earth.

On a little glass shelf above the chimp, the lacy bones of a tiny white-handed gibbons’ upright and humanlike skeleton presided, like a fanged angel with arms that reached its ankles.

“The suspension of the human skeleton gave visible form to what perhaps changed when upright across the land in the tenuous balance of bipedalism, their eyes focus on the distances that hardly exist in forests… The skeleton dangled as though it belonged to the sky and needed to grow the wings most bipeds have, to lift further from the ground of its origins; or it dangled with its feet just scraping the floor of the case as though it needed to come back to earth, as though with its straight treelike body it needed to put down roots, to solidify. It seemed to me that human beings when they became upright aspired to two conditions: becoming birds or becoming trees, wanderers or settlers, oscillating between their roots and their wings, exiled whichever way they turned.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Our relationship with death and dying these days is not good at all. Fifty years ago one’s grandfather would die at home, and the grandchild would see the grandfather’s dead face. The fact of dying was inside the fact of living. Now we’ve become ashamed of dying, we want to forget that we’re going to die. Dying has become an accident. But I think it’s important to speak about it as it’s the only thing we can really be sure of. We are all going to die. We also have a problem with the fact of killing. I eat meat but I would never dream of killing an animal. But if we eat meat, we have to accept that being alive means that we kill things around us. But we forget these basic aspects of our humanity.”

- Christian Boltanski

“What is so beautiful and simultaneously dangerous about Christianity is that Christians want to convert everyone to their faith – so with the beauty of this ideal comes the fact that they’ve killed so many people. There is nothing more beautiful in Christianity than the fact that Christ was killed for everybody. Christ’s last words were incredible, they were: ‘I’m thirsty; Father, why have you forsaken me?’ and ‘I’m dying’ – which are all so human. It’s so amazing that a religion can be built on these words, the words of a man at the moment of such weakness and despair.”

- Christian Boltanski

“It seems to me that Western Christian culture is all about objects. For an African it is not so important to preserve a mask from the sixteenth century. What is important is to have someone now who still has the skill to make a mask. In many other traditions, it’s not important to keep the object, but what is of value is knowing the idea or story behind it.”

- Christian Boltanski

“If you answer mostly no, then congratulations, you have white privilege.

When you want to join a prestigious social club, do you wonder if your race will make it difficult for you to join?

When you go shopping alone at a nice store, do you worry that you will be followed or harassed?

When you turn on mainstream TV or open a mainstream newspaper, do you expect to find mostly people of another race?

Do you worry that your children will not have books and school materials that are about people of their own race?

When you apply for a bank loan, do you worry that, because of your race, you might be seen as financially unreliable?

If you swear, or dress shabbily, do you think that people might say this is because of the bad morals or the poverty or the illiteracy of your race?

If you do well in a situation, do you expect to be called a credit to your race? Or to be described as ‘different’ from the majority of your race?

If you criticize the government, do you worry that you might be seen as a cultural outsider? Or that you might be asked to ‘go back to X,’ X being somewhere not in America?

If you receive poor service in a nice store and ask to see ‘the person in charge,’ do you expect that this person will be a person of another race?

If a traffic cop pulls you over, do you wonder if it is because of your race?

If you take a job with an Affirmative Action employer, do you worry that your co-workers will think you are unqualified and were hired only because of your race?

If you want to move to a nice neighborhood, do you worry that you might not be welcome because of your race?

If you need legal or medical help, do you worry that your race might work against you?

When you use the ‘nude’ color of underwear and Band-Aids, do you already know that it will not match your skin?”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, referring to Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

“Why must we always talk about race anyway? Can’t we just be human beings? Professor Hunk replied – that is exactly what white privilege is, that you can say that. Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice. The black guy on the street in New York doesn’t want to think about race, until he tries to hail a cab, and he doesn’t want to think about race when he’s driving his Mercedes under the speed limit, until a cop pulls him over. So Appalachian hick guy doesn’t have class privilege, but he sure as hell has race privilege.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters. They are people with loving families, regular folk who pay taxes.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“The simplest solution to the problem of race in America? Romantic love. Not friendship. Not the kind of safe, shallow love where the objective is that both people remain comfortable. But real deep romantic love, the kind that twists you and wrings you out and makes you breathe through the nostrils of your beloved. And because that real deep romantic love is so rare, and because American society is set up to make it even rarer between American Black an American White, the problem of race in America will never be solved.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“There was a certain luxury to charity that she could not identify with and did not have. To take ‘charity’ for granted, to revel in this charity towards people whom one did not know – perhaps it came from having had yesterday and having today and expecting to have tomorrow.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah


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