Happiness is Poetry: Anne Sexton
I’ve unfortunately gotten away from poetry over the last year. First, in terms of my writing, I have distanced myself significantly from my muse. Additionally, my life has been really good, I typically write from angst, anger and pain and happily there has been very little of that in my life this past year. It seems that whenever my writing output slows, my poetry reading and exploration slows. So tonight, I start exploring again and my search tonight brought me to Anne Sexton.
From the first poem I read I absolutely fell in love with her work. She called herself a confessional poet and that is such a clear description of the way her words feel, no edifice, no masks just who and what she was, even where it took her to an almost longing for death. The third piece I’ve included here, she openly talks about her upcoming death at 40, she in fact committed suicide at 45. Below is an amazing description of a truly amazing woman and writer, I wish I’d met her.
“A college dropout turned housewife, fashion model, and jazz singer, Anne Gray Harvey Sexton is an unusual source of self-revelatory verse that prefaced an era of modernist confessional.
An ambivalent feminist, she spoke for the turmoil in women who despised the housewife’s boring fate, yet she suffered guilt over ventures into angry complaint and personal freedom.
A relentlessly honest observer capable of springing from disillusion to flashes of perception, she celebrated physical details of womanhood … Long parted from religion, she retained the fault-consciousness and self-loathing of Roman Catholicism.”
A Curse Against Elegies
Oh, love, why do we argue like this?
I am tired of all your pious talk.
Also, I am tired of all the dead.
They refuse to listen,
so leave them alone.
Take your foot out of the graveyard,
they are busy being dead.
Everyone was always to blame:
the last empty fifth of booze,
the rusty nails and chicken feathers
that stuck in the mud on the back doorstep,
the worms that lived under the cat’s ear
and the thin-lipped preacher
who refused to call
except once on a flea-ridden day
when he came scuffing in through the yard
looking for a scapegoat.
I hid in the kitchen under the ragbag.
I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you — you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams.
Again and Again and Again
You said the anger would come back
just as the love did.
I have a black look I do not
like. It is a mask I try on.
I migrate toward it and its frog
sits on my lips and defecates.
It is old. It is also a pauper.
I have tried to keep it on a diet.
I give it no unction.
There is a good look that I wear
like a blood clot. I have
sewn it over my left breast.
I have made a vocation of it.
Lust has taken plant in it
and I have placed you and your
child at its milk tip.
Oh the blackness is murderous
and the milk tip is brimming
and each machine is working
and I will kiss you when
I cut up one dozen new men
and you will die somewhat,
again and again.
Menstruation at Forty
I was thinking of a son.
The womb is not a clock
nor a bell tolling,
but in the eleventh month of its life
I feel the November
of the body as well as of the calendar.
In two days it will be my birthday
and as always the earth is done with its harvest.
This time I hunt for death,
the night I lean toward,
the night I want.
It was in the womb all along.
I was thinking of a son …
You! The never acquired,
the never seeded or unfastened,
you of the genitals I feared,
the stalk and the puppy’s breath.
Will I give you my eyes or his?
Will you be the David or the Susan?
(Those two names I picked and listened for.)
Can you be the man your fathers are–
the leg muscles from Michelangelo,
hands from Yugoslavia
somewhere the peasant, Slavic and determined,
somewhere the survivor bulging with life–
and could it still be possible,
all this with Susan’s eyes?
All this without you–
two days gone in blood.
I myself will die without baptism,
a third daughter they didn’t bother.
My death will come on my name day.
What’s wrong with the name day?
It’s only an angel of the sun.
weaving a web over your own,
a thin and tangled poison.
My death from the wrists,
two name tags,
blood worn like a corsage
one on the left and one on the right —
It’s a warm room,
the place of the blood.
Leave the door open on its hinges!
Two days for your death
and two days until mine.
Love! That red disease–
year after year, David, you would make me wild!
David! Susan! David! David!
full and disheveled, hissing into the night,
never growing old,
waiting always for you on the porch …
year after year,
my carrot, my cabbage,
I would have possessed you before all women,
calling your name,
calling you mine.
You always read about it:
the plumber with twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son’s heart.
From diapers to Dior.
Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.
Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mother’s grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.
Next came the ball, as you all know.
It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife.
All but Cinderella were preparing
and gussying up for the big event.
Cinderella begged to go too.
Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
into the cinders and said: Pick them
up in an hour and you shall go.
The white dove brought all his friends;
all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
you have no clothes and cannot dance.
That’s the way with stepmothers.
Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the prince’s ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little gold slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went. Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didn’t
recognize her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.
As nightfall came she thought she’d better
get home. The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobbler’s wax
and Cinderella’s gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
The don’t just heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.
At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.
Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.