I hadn’t factored in all the snow. It reflected the chalk sky already infused with murky smears. It would prove difficult for my simple camera, too much, then too little, available light. After half an hour my fingers were getting frostbitten and the wind was coming up, yet I stubbornly kept taking pictures. I hoped the sun would return and I irrationally shot, using all of my film. None of the pictures were good. I was numb with cold but couldn’t bear to leave. It was such a desolate place in winter, so lonely. Why had her husband buried her here? I wondered. Why not New England by the sea, where she was born, where salt winds could spiral over the name PLATH etched in her native stone? I had an uncontrollable urge to urinate and imagined spilling a small stream, some part of me wanting her to feel that proximate human warmth.
Life, Sylvia. Life.
The bucket of pens was gone, perhaps retired for winter. I went through my pockets, extracting a small spiral notebook, a purple ribbon, and a cotton lisle sock with a bee embroidered near the top. I tied the ribbon around them and tucked them by her headstone. The last of the light faded as I trudged back to the heavy gate. It was only as I approached the car that the sun appeared and now with a vengeance. I turned just as a voice whispered:
—Don’t look back, don’t look back.
It was as if Lot’s wife, a pillar of salt, had toppled on the snow-covered ground and spread a lengthening heat melting all in its path. The warmth drew life, drawing out tufts of green and a slow procession of souls. Sylvia, in a cream-colored sweater and straight skirt, shading her eyes from the mischievous sun, walking on into the great return.
In early spring I visited Sylvia Plath’s grave for a third time, with my sister Linda. She longed to journey through Brontë country and so we did together. We traced the steps of the Brontë sisters and then traveled up the hill to trace mine. Linda delighted in the overgrown fields, the wildflowers, and the Gothic ruins. I sat quietly by the grave, conscious of a rare, suspended peace.
Spanish pilgrims travel on Camino de Santiago from monastery to monastery, collecting small medals to attach to their rosary as proof of their steps. I have stacks of Polaroids, each marking my own, that I sometimes spread out like tarots or baseball cards of an imagined celestial team. There is now one of Sylvia in spring. It is very nice, but lacking the shimmering quality of the lost ones. Nothing can be truly replicated. Not a love, not a jewel, not a single line.
Patti Smith, M Train, 2015.