I Am Learning Peacefulness
Faiza Anum on finding understanding in "Tulips" during a pandemic.
The city is not too excitable, it is lockdown here. Leaving home for the first time in the last four months, for a wonderless walk, I stare at the snowy silence on the street. I feel empty-handed, like the incredibly long-armed trees. So I choose an empty bench, and light the screen of my mobile, which is more mobile than I, and mumble, “Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.”
Reading this particular verse from Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips” has become a ritual, ever since “self-quarantine” has superseded my personal favorite state, “seclusion.” The world now is no less a replica of Plath’s private hospital room from “Tulips,” the perfectly sanitized space becomes more suffocating than a surgery station, the redness hurts, and the repetition bores.
This planet is full of sirens, the vivid danger eats our “oxygen,” and we see ourselves “flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow,” singing the sense that “I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself” with the sanitized face-mask and gloves. The clicks of coffee have become more uncomfortable. Snug in our separate spaces (old rugs, sloppy beds, kitchen corners), while we all are huffing with the prospect of being branded an “untouchable” anytime, “health” inevitably has become “a country far away”.
The return of Plath’s “Tulips” to my disinfected consciousness after six years (I was taught Plath’s “Tulips” in a course on American Poetry) is not uncanny. This unlyrical timeless piece had to return to prepare me for the voyage towards “I am learning peacefulness,”, to remind me that “I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes / Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.”
So, “I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly.”
Faiza Anum is an educationist, poet and occasional translator from Lahore, Pakistan.
Sylvia Path was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932. She is one of the most recognizable figures in the confessional poetry genre. She took her own life at the age of 30 in 1963.