The Moon and the Yew Tree

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. Their irregular branches,
like broken arms backlit from MRI dye, offset by yearning.
They take form in ways only experts can decipher.
The light is blue. The observation of the alien doctor
flickers in his iris, furnace gaslight burning like a pagan memorial.

The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God,
I pity their need for idolatry. It bares itself only to the void of me,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
I am unable to convince them otherwise.
I hear them mew and compete as if for a rough teat's clear nutrition.
Foolish rule of the organic, uncultured and out of control.
I am mum and tidy as a nun in comparison.
Though capable of devastation are my desires which punish
the landscape with recrimination, uprooting the hedges.
They swallow fire, speak in four languages, and love no one.
I shudder with pride as they push themselves back to their origin,
to the scraped-out bottom of a uterine nothing;
this hard loneliness, skull-solid, pushed back into vagueness
until it succumbs as if overwhelmed by barbiturates. 

Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
Its green vapors trigger an olfactory déjà vu like a recurrent nightmare.
I envy the buried faces finally freed from worry and ailment,
from the pressure to remain always forward-thinking.
I picture their release, the prostrate bodies floating up as if levitated.
What peace, what stillness was shoveled onto their pine box beds
where darkness then dropped, all at once, final as an execution.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset. I identify with its nausea.
It meets me in the mirror uninvited, this face beneath my face,
restless and unwilling. It formulates inside me like a kicking fetus
and refuses to be ignored. It haunts and threatens like a past trauma.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; mute as a mug shot,
it is quiet, like someone suffocated who suddenly stops struggling.
I recognize in its warm death the expression of the starving
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.

Against me a force, not stronger or more intelligent,
but more adaptable to poor weather like dandelions.
I can feel it whittle me down to horse feed pellets.
I'm being winnowed out of the earth's circulation,
with a pairing incremental as this winter's passing.
Twice on Sunday the bells startle the sky
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
I'm forced to listen to the liturgical lecturing,
truant student of a catechism I loathe.
At the end, they soberly bong out their names;
Myths and ideals I could never bring myself to believe in,
my prayers, the self-flagellation of unrequited love.

The yew tree points up like a New England steeple.
It has a Gothic shape. It used to remind me of home.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
Once fragile as rice paper, it hangs static and tough
like a noose signifying more hardship ahead—
interrogating flashlight that hurts my eyes.
Now no home exists—just an empty bed,
a pile of mangled sheets atop a dark wood floor,
like snow atop the frozen mud tracks of hoof and wheel.

The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
She licks her white feathers and stares back with one eye
vicious as a swan about to bite.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
I watch, my leg caught in the truth of my life
where beyond human emotion I've traveled at this point.

How I would like to believe in tenderness
in those symbolic unions that elicit sweet concepts:
mother and child, father and daughter, husband and wife.
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
its cheekbones flushed with an afterworld favoritism
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes;
hair waving, mouth parted in mid-speech like drowned Ophelia.

I have fallen a long way. I lie at the bottom, smashed
like a dinner plate against kitchen tile, china chips and jagged bits.
I lie at the bottom, shattered and dangerous, looking up
with a baby's stunned engrossment. I'm moving closer to Pluto and Mars.
Clouds are flowering blue and mystical over the face of the stars,—
It will not be quick. Death drinks me in, slow as syrup.

Inside the church, the saints will be all blue.
They've ascended into heaven's oxygen-deprived morgue.
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness,
mannequins perennially enacting the nativity in a wax museum.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild
as one dying of cancer. She begs for relief, but her pillow-muffled
shrieks disperse with the other sounds and shadows of the night.
We are left alone, her cadaver face, gaunt and grim, prescient of mine.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness—blackness and silence.

                                                                             Sylvia Plath, "The Moon and the Yew Tree,"
                                                                                        Ariel (New York: Harper & Row, 1961)

Tory Dent, "The Moon and the Yew Tree" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2015 by Tory Dent.  Reprinted by permission of The Sheep Meadow Press.
Source: Collected Poems (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2015)
More Poems by Tory Dent