The Apostrophe Blog
My poem, “Ernestine,” is included in these fine pages. You can purchase a copy of this gorgeous magazine here. I wrote this poem for the late Sylvia Plath after I went to visit a memorial in Salem, Oregon in early 2023. The cremains of Ernestine Kottke Plath, Sylvia Plath’s grandmother, were in a canister marked #177 (out of a total of 3423) at the Oregon State Hospital from her death in 1919 until being claimed by a relative after 101 years in 2020. The hospital basement where these urns were discovered in 2004 is now referred to as the “room of forgotten souls.” The Oregon State Hospital Cremains Memorial was built within a relocated and restored 1896 structure known as Building 60—once the hospital pestilence house and morgue—and dedicated in 2014.
She was there all along, one of thousands
abandoned, by family unclaimed
in that room of forgotten souls—a shed
behind the asylum in Salem,
dumping ground for the so-called
insane. Three years inside, her madness
caused by “over-work & chronic ulcer of leg,”
unvisited by her son, “Daddy” to you.
One more anonymous castoff, thrown
away, unwilling to fit in, bargain or bend,
until her death, recorded as pulmonary TB.
What might you have learned, earnest
teen, as you struggled to speak
the words, seek an anchor, your flame?
Had you known of her desecration
would there have been comfort in
recognizing the ashes you shared?
You ablaze, a comet before incinerating
inside that February sun while she sat,
sentenced to silence, godforsaken remains
in row after row of oxidizing copper urns.