“The female seer will burn upon this pyre”

By Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962 Elizabeth Alexander
Sylvia Plath is setting my hair
on rollers made from orange-juice cans.
The hairdo is shaped like a pyre.

My locks are improbably long.
A pyramid of lemons somehow
balances on the rickety table   

where we sit, in the rented kitchen
which smells of singed naps and bergamot.
Sylvia Plath is surprisingly adept

at rolling my unruly hair.
She knows to pull it tight.
                                              Few words.
Her flat, American belly,

her breasts in a twin sweater set,
stack of typed poems on her desk,
envelopes stamped to go by the door,

a freshly baked poppyseed cake,
kitchen safety matches, black-eyed Susans
in a cobalt jelly jar. She speaks a word,

“immolate,” then a single sentence
of prophecy. The hairdo done,
the nursery tidy, the floor swept clean

of burnt hair and bumblebee husks.

“The female seer will burn upon this pyre” Copyright © 2001 by Elizabeth Alexander. Reprinted from Antebellum Dream Book, with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: Antebellum Dream Book (Graywolf Press, 2001)

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Poet Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962

Subjects Heroes & Patriotism, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Poetry & Poets

 Elizabeth  Alexander


Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. Currently the chair of African American Studies at Yale, Alexander is a highly respected teacher and . . .

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SUBJECT Heroes & Patriotism, Arts & Sciences, Social Commentaries, Poetry & Poets

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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