is the award-winning author of two full-length poetry collections: Blue Positive
(Steel Toe Books 2006) and What the Truth Tastes Like
(Nightshade Press 1999). Her poems have appeared widely, in such places as Paris Review
, Poetry Northwest
, Prairie Schooner and Beloit Poetry Journal
, and in many anthologies, including American Poetry: The Next Generation
(Carnegie Mellon 2000), Birds in the Hand
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2004), and Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets
She’s been awarded grants from the Seattle Arts Commission and Artist Trust, as well as fellowships at the Millay Colony, the Arizona Poetry Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, among others. Martha teaches at Edmonds and Bellevue Community Colleges. Visit her website
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By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me—Sylvia Plath
By the roots of my hair, by the reinforced elastic
of my floral Bravado bra, by the fraying strands
of my blue-checked briefs, some god’s gotten hold of me,
some god’s squeezed hard the spit-up rag of my soul, rung me
like the little girl who rang our doorbell on Halloween, took
our M&Ms is your baby okay? Why did they take him away?
Some god’s got me thinking my milk’s poison, unfit
for a hungry child, some god’s got me pacing,
set me flying like the black felt bats dangling
in the hall, some god so that now I can’t trust my best friend’s
healing hands, the Phad Thai she’s spooning beside the rice (ditto
to the meds the doctors say will help me sleep) Poison poison!
as if the god who’s got hold of me doesn’t want me
well, doesn’t want my rapid-fire brain to slow,
wants this ride for as long as it lasts, wants to take it
to its over-Niagara-in-a-barrel end, which is where
this god is taking me, one rung at a time, one ambulance,
one EMT strapping me in, throwing me off this earth,
cuz I’ve not only killed my son but a heap of others too.
Some god’s got me by my shiny golden locks, by my milk-
leaking breasts, got me in this hospital, wisps like white scarves
circling my head, wisps the voices of men back to bed you whore!
Some god till I’m believing I’ve been shot, guts dribbling out,
till I’m sure I’ve ridden all over town in a spaceship, sure
I’m dead, a ghost, a smoldering corpse, though not before I’m holding up
a shaking wall, urging the others to help me (a plane about to land
on our heads), though soon enough thrown down by two night nurses,
strapped to a bed, though for weeks the flowers my in-laws sent
charred at the tips (having been to hell and back), clang of pots,
hissing shower, the two blue pills my roommate left in the sink,
all signals of doom, though some god got hold of me,
shook and shook me long and hard, she also brought me back.
[Originally published in Blue Positive (Steel Toe Books 2006)]
hen my son was a mere three weeks old, I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and involuntarily admitted into Harborview Medical Center for a month-long stay. During that time I doubted I would live a normal life again. After I was released from the hospital and began the long, slow journey to recovery, I wanted very much to write about my descent into madness, about my delusions, fears, paranoia, and waking nightmares.
I tried for four years to write this poem, but the drafts kept falling short. Then one day I came upon a Sylvia Plath poem titled “The Hanging Man,” which begins with the line By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me. That was all I needed to find the voice and images to capture those scary and seemingly interminable days as a mental patient. The poem was a milestone for me because it makes art out of an extremely painful experience, lays to rest the notion that mental illness is always a permanent condition, and because it helped me fully realize the importance of patience and perseverance.