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Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

The Break Away

 Your daisies have come
on the day of my divorce:
the courtroom a cement box,
a gas chamber for the infectious Jew in me
and a perhaps land, a possibly promised land
for the Jew in me,
but still a betrayal room for the till-death-do-us—
and yet a death, as in the unlocking of scissors
that makes the now separate parts useless,
even to cut each other up as we did yearly
under the crayoned-in sun.
The courtroom keeps squashing our lives as they break into two cans ready for recycling, flattened tin humans and a tin law, even for my twenty-five years of hanging on by my teeth as I once saw at Ringling Brothers.
The gray room: Judge, lawyer, witness and me and invisible Skeezix, and all the other torn enduring the bewilderments of their division.
Your daisies have come on the day of my divorce.
They arrive like round yellow fish, sucking with love at the coral of our love.
Yet they wait, in their short time, like little utero half-borns, half killed, thin and bone soft.
They breathe the air that stands for twenty-five illicit days, the sun crawling inside the sheets, the moon spinning like a tornado in the washbowl, and we orchestrated them both, calling ourselves TWO CAMP DIRECTORS.
There was a song, our song on your cassette, that played over and over and baptised the prodigals.
It spoke the unspeakable, as the rain will on an attic roof, letting the animal join its soul as we kneeled before a miracle-- forgetting its knife.
The daisies confer in the old-married kitchen papered with blue and green chefs who call out pies, cookies, yummy, at the charcoal and cigarette smoke they wear like a yellowy salve.
The daisies absorb it all-- the twenty-five-year-old sanctioned love (If one could call such handfuls of fists and immobile arms that!) and on this day my world rips itself up while the country unfastens along with its perjuring king and his court.
It unfastens into an abortion of belief, as in me-- the legal rift-- as on might do with the daisies but does not for they stand for a love undergoihng open heart surgery that might take if one prayed tough enough.
And yet I demand, even in prayer, that I am not a thief, a mugger of need, and that your heart survive on its own, belonging only to itself, whole, entirely whole, and workable in its dark cavern under your ribs.
I pray it will know truth, if truth catches in its cup and yet I pray, as a child would, that the surgery take.
I dream it is taking.
Next I dream the love is swallowing itself.
Next I dream the love is made of glass, glass coming through the telephone that is breaking slowly, day by day, into my ear.
Next I dream that I put on the love like a lifejacket and we float, jacket and I, we bounce on that priest-blue.
We are as light as a cat's ear and it is safe, safe far too long! And I awaken quickly and go to the opposite window and peer down at the moon in the pond and know that beauty has walked over my head, into this bedroom and out, flowing out through the window screen, dropping deep into the water to hide.
I will observe the daisies fade and dry up wuntil they become flour, snowing themselves onto the table beside the drone of the refrigerator, beside the radio playing Frankie (as often as FM will allow) snowing lightly, a tremor sinking from the ceiling-- as twenty-five years split from my side like a growth that I sliced off like a melanoma.
It is six P.
as I water these tiny weeds and their little half-life, their numbered days that raged like a secret radio, recalling love that I picked up innocently, yet guiltily, as my five-year-old daughter picked gum off the sidewalk and it became suddenly an elastic miracle.
For me it was love found like a diamond where carrots grow-- the glint of diamond on a plane wing, meaning: DANGER! THICK ICE! but the good crunch of that orange, the diamond, the carrot, both with four million years of resurrecting dirt, and the love, although Adam did not know the word, the love of Adam obeying his sudden gift.
You, who sought me for nine years, in stories made up in front of your naked mirror or walking through rooms of fog women, you trying to forget the mother who built guilt with the lumber of a locked door as she sobbed her soured mild and fed you loss through the keyhole, you who wrote out your own birth and built it with your own poems, your own lumber, your own keyhole, into the trunk and leaves of your manhood, you, who fell into my words, years before you fell into me (the other, both the Camp Director and the camper), you who baited your hook with wide-awake dreams, and calls and letters and once a luncheon, and twice a reading by me for you.
But I wouldn't! Yet this year, yanking off all past years, I took the bait and was pulled upward, upward, into the sky and was held by the sun-- the quick wonder of its yellow lap-- and became a woman who learned her own shin and dug into her soul and found it full, and you became a man who learned his won skin and dug into his manhood, his humanhood and found you were as real as a baker or a seer and we became a home, up into the elbows of each other's soul, without knowing-- an invisible purchase-- that inhabits our house forever.
We were blessed by the House-Die by the altar of the color T.
and somehow managed to make a tiny marriage, a tiny marriage called belief, as in the child's belief in the tooth fairy, so close to absolute, so daft within a year or two.
The daisies have come for the last time.
And I who have, each year of my life, spoken to the tooth fairy, believing in her, even when I was her, am helpless to stop your daisies from dying, although your voice cries into the telephone: Marry me! Marry me! and my voice speaks onto these keys tonight: The love is in dark trouble! The love is starting to die, right now-- we are in the process of it.
The empty process of it.
I see two deaths, and the two men plod toward the mortuary of my heart, and though I willed one away in court today and I whisper dreams and birthdays into the other, they both die like waves breaking over me and I am drowning a little, but always swimming among the pillows and stones of the breakwater.
And though your daisies are an unwanted death, I wade through the smell of their cancer and recognize the prognosis, its cartful of loss-- I say now, you gave what you could.
It was quite a ferris wheel to spin on! and the dead city of my marriage seems less important than the fact that the daisies came weekly, over and over, likes kisses that can't stop themselves.
There sit two deaths on November 5th, 1973.
Let one be forgotten-- Bury it! Wall it up! But let me not forget the man of my child-like flowers though he sinks into the fog of Lake Superior, he remains, his fingers the marvel of fourth of July sparklers, his furious ice cream cones of licking, remains to cool my forehead with a washcloth when I sweat into the bathtub of his being.
For the rest that is left: name it gentle, as gentle as radishes inhabiting their short life in the earth, name it gentle, gentle as old friends waving so long at the window, or in the drive, name it gentle as maple wings singing themselves upon the pond outside, as sensuous as the mother-yellow in the pond, that night that it was ours, when our bodies floated and bumped in moon water and the cicadas called out like tongues.
Let such as this be resurrected in all men whenever they mold their days and nights as when for twenty-five days and nights you molded mine and planted the seed that dives into my God and will do so forever no matter how often I sweep the floor.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem


 It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step, as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike, wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby or poor or fatty or crazy and made you into an alien, you drank their acid and concealed it.
Later, if you faced the death of bombs and bullets you did not do it with a banner, you did it with only a hat to comver your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you and died himself in so doing, then his courage was not courage, it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.
Later, if you have endured a great despair, then you did it alone, getting a transfusion from the fire, picking the scabs off your heart, then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow, you gave it a back rub and then you covered it with a blanket and after it had slept a while it woke to the wings of the roses and was transformed.
Later, when you face old age and its natural conclusion your courage will still be shown in the little ways, each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen, those you love will live in a fever of love, and you'll bargain with the calendar and at the last moment when death opens the back door you'll put on your carpet slippers and stride out.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem


 You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.
Or the nursemaid, some luscious sweet from Denmark who captures the oldest son's heart.
from diapers to Dior.
That story.
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.
That story.
Once 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 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 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.
They just don't 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.
That story.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)

a girl who keeps slipping off,
arms limp as old carrots,
into the hypnotist's trance,
into a spirit world
speaking with the gift of tongues.
She is stuck in the time machine, suddenly two years old sucking her thumb, as inward as a snail, learning to talk again.
She's on a voyage.
She is swimming further and further back, up like a salmon, struggling into her mother's pocketbook.
Little doll child, come here to Papa.
Sit on my knee.
I have kisses for the back of your neck.
A penny for your thoughts, Princess.
I will hunt them like an emerald.
Come be my snooky and I will give you a root.
That kind of voyage, rank as a honeysuckle.
Once a king had a christening for his daughter Briar Rose and because he had only twelve gold plates he asked only twelve fairies to the grand event.
The thirteenth fairy, her fingers as long and thing as straws, her eyes burnt by cigarettes, her uterus an empty teacup, arrived with an evil gift.
She made this prophecy: The princess shall prick herself on a spinning wheel in her fifteenth year and then fall down dead.
Kaputt! The court fell silent.
The king looked like Munch's Scream Fairies' prophecies, in times like those, held water.
However the twelfth fairy had a certain kind of eraser and thus she mitigated the curse changing that death into a hundred-year sleep.
The king ordered every spinning wheel exterminated and exorcised.
Briar Rose grew to be a goddess and each night the king bit the hem of her gown to keep her safe.
He fastened the moon up with a safety pin to give her perpetual light He forced every male in the court to scour his tongue with Bab-o lest they poison the air she dwelt in.
Thus she dwelt in his odor.
Rank as honeysuckle.
On her fifteenth birthday she pricked her finger on a charred spinning wheel and the clocks stopped.
Yes indeed.
She went to sleep.
The king and queen went to sleep, the courtiers, the flies on the wall.
The fire in the hearth grew still and the roast meat stopped crackling.
The trees turned into metal and the dog became china.
They all lay in a trance, each a catatonic stuck in a time machine.
Even the frogs were zombies.
Only a bunch of briar roses grew forming a great wall of tacks around the castle.
Many princes tried to get through the brambles for they had heard much of Briar Rose but they had not scoured their tongues so they were held by the thorns and thus were crucified.
In due time a hundred years passed and a prince got through.
The briars parted as if for Moses and the prince found the tableau intact.
He kissed Briar Rose and she woke up crying: Daddy! Daddy! Presto! She's out of prison! She married the prince and all went well except for the fear -- the fear of sleep.
Briar Rose was an insomniac.
She could not nap or lie in sleep without the court chemist mixing her some knock-out drops and never in the prince's presence.
If if is to come, she said, sleep must take me unawares while I am laughing or dancing so that I do not know that brutal place where I lie down with cattle prods, the hole in my cheek open.
Further, I must not dream for when I do I see the table set and a faltering crone at my place, her eyes burnt by cigarettes as she eats betrayal like a slice of meat.
I must not sleep for while I'm asleep I'm ninety and think I'm dying.
Death rattles in my throat like a marble.
I wear tubes like earrings.
I lie as still as a bar of iron.
You can stick a needle through my kneecap and I won't flinch.
I'm all shot up with Novocain.
This trance girl is yours to do with.
You could lay her in a grave, an awful package, and shovel dirt on her face and she'd never call back: Hello there! But if you kissed her on the mouth her eyes would spring open and she'd call out: Daddy! Daddy! Presto! She's out of prison.
There was a theft.
That much I am told.
I was abandoned.
That much I know.
I was forced backward.
I was forced forward.
I was passed hand to hand like a bowl of fruit.
Each night I am nailed into place and forget who I am.
Daddy? That's another kind of prison.
It's not the prince at all, but my father drunkeningly bends over my bed, circling the abyss like a shark, my father thick upon me like some sleeping jellyfish.
What voyage is this, little girl? This coming out of prison? God help -- this life after death?
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

The Double Image

I am thirty this November.
You are still small, in your fourth year.
We stand watching the yellow leaves go queer, flapping in the winter rain.
falling flat and washed.
And I remember mostly the three autumns you did not live here.
They said I'd never get you back again.
I tell you what you'll never really know: all the medical hypothesis that explained my brain will never be as true as these struck leaves letting go.
I, who chose two times to kill myself, had said your nickname the mewling mouths when you first came; until a fever rattled in your throat and I moved like a pantomine above your head.
Ugly angels spoke to me.
The blame, I heard them say, was mine.
They tattled like green witches in my head, letting doom leak like a broken faucet; as if doom had flooded my belly and filled your bassinet, an old debt I must assume.
Death was simpler than I'd thought.
The day life made you well and whole I let the witches take away my guilty soul.
I pretended I was dead until the white men pumped the poison out, putting me armless and washed through the rigamarole of talking boxes and the electric bed.
I laughed to see the private iron in that hotel.
Today the yellow leaves go queer.
You ask me where they go I say today believed in itself, or else it fell.
Today, my small child, Joyce, love your self's self where it lives.
There is no special God to refer to; or if there is, why did I let you grow in another place.
You did not know my voice when I came back to call.
All the superlatives of tomorrow's white tree and mistletoe will not help you know the holidays you had to miss.
The time I did not love myself, I visited your shoveled walks; you held my glove.
There was new snow after this.
They sent me letters with news of you and I made moccasins that I would never use.
When I grew well enough to tolerate myself, I lived with my mother, the witches said.
But I didn't leave.
I had my portrait done instead.
Part way back from Bedlam I came to my mother's house in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
And this is how I came to catch at her; and this is how I lost her.
I cannot forgive your suicide, my mother said.
And she never could.
She had my portrait done instead.
I lived like an angry guest, like a partly mended thing, an outgrown child.
I remember my mother did her best.
She took me to Boston and had my hair restyled.
Your smile is like your mother's, the artist said.
I didn't seem to care.
I had my portrait done instead.
There was a church where I grew up with its white cupboards where they locked us up, row by row, like puritans or shipmates singing together.
My father passed the plate.
Too late to be forgiven now, the witches said.
I wasn't exactly forgiven.
They had my portrait done instead.
All that summer sprinklers arched over the seaside grass.
We talked of drought while the salt-parched field grew sweet again.
To help time pass I tried to mow the lawn and in the morning I had my portrait done, holding my smile in place, till it grew formal.
Once I mailed you a picture of a rabbit and a postcard of Motif number one, as if it were normal to be a mother and be gone.
They hung my portrait in the chill north light, matching me to keep me well.
Only my mother grew ill.
She turned from me, as if death were catching, as if death transferred, as if my dying had eaten inside of her.
That August you were two, by I timed my days with doubt.
On the first of September she looked at me and said I gave her cancer.
They carved her sweet hills out and still I couldn't answer.
That winter she came part way back from her sterile suite of doctors, the seasick cruise of the X-ray, the cells' arithmetic gone wild.
Surgery incomplete, the fat arm, the prognosis poor, I heard them say.
During the sea blizzards she had here own portrait painted.
A cave of mirror placed on the south wall; matching smile, matching contour.
And you resembled me; unacquainted with my face, you wore it.
But you were mine after all.
I wintered in Boston, childless bride, nothing sweet to spare with witches at my side.
I missed your babyhood, tried a second suicide, tried the sealed hotel a second year.
On April Fool you fooled me.
We laughed and this was good.
I checked out for the last time on the first of May; graduate of the mental cases, with my analysts's okay, my complete book of rhymes, my typewriter and my suitcases.
All that summer I learned life back into my own seven rooms, visited the swan boats, the market, answered the phone, served cocktails as a wife should, made love among my petticoats and August tan.
And you came each weekend.
But I lie.
You seldom came.
I just pretended you, small piglet, butterfly girl with jelly bean cheeks, disobedient three, my splendid stranger.
And I had to learn why I would rather die than love, how your innocence would hurt and how I gather guilt like a young intern his symptons, his certain evidence.
That October day we went to Gloucester the red hills reminded me of the dry red fur fox coat I played in as a child; stock still like a bear or a tent, like a great cave laughing or a red fur fox.
We drove past the hatchery, the hut that sells bait, past Pigeon Cove, past the Yacht Club, past Squall's Hill, to the house that waits still, on the top of the sea, and two portraits hung on the opposite walls.
In north light, my smile is held in place, the shadow marks my bone.
What could I have been dreaming as I sat there, all of me waiting in the eyes, the zone of the smile, the young face, the foxes' snare.
In south light, her smile is held in place, her cheeks wilting like a dry orchid; my mocking mirror, my overthrown love, my first image.
She eyes me from that face that stony head of death I had outgrown.
The artist caught us at the turning; we smiled in our canvas home before we chose our foreknown separate ways.
The dry redfur fox coat was made for burning.
I rot on the wall, my own Dorian Gray.
And this was the cave of the mirror, that double woman who stares at herself, as if she were petrified in time -- two ladies sitting in umber chairs.
You kissed your grandmother and she cried.
I could not get you back except for weekends.
You came each time, clutching the picture of a rabbit that I had sent you.
For the last time I unpack your things.
We touch from habit.
The first visit you asked my name.
Now you will stay for good.
I will forget how we bumped away from each other like marionettes on strings.
It wasn't the same as love, letting weekends contain us.
You scrape your knee.
You learn my name, wobbling up the sidewalk, calling and crying.
You can call me mother and I remember my mother again, somewhere in greater Boston, dying.
I remember we named you Joyce so we could call you Joy.
You came like an awkward guest that first time, all wrapped and moist and strange at my heavy breast.
I needed you.
I didn't want a boy, only a girl, a small milky mouse of a girl, already loved, already loud in the house of herself.
We named you Joy.
I, who was never quite sure about being a girl, needed another life, another image to remind me.
And this was my worst guilt; you could not cure or soothe it.
I made you to find me.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

Suicide Note

 "You speak to me of narcissism but I reply that it is 
a matter of my life" - Artaud

"At this time let me somehow bequeath all the leftovers 
to my daughters and their daughters" - Anonymous

despite the worms talking to 
the mare's hoof in the field; 
despite the season of young girls 
dropping their blood; 
better somehow 
to drop myself quickly 
into an old room.
Better (someone said) not to be born and far better not to be born twice at thirteen where the boardinghouse, each year a bedroom, caught fire.
Dear friend, I will have to sink with hundreds of others on a dumbwaiter into hell.
I will be a light thing.
I will enter death like someone's lost optical lens.
Life is half enlarged.
The fish and owls are fierce today.
Life tilts backward and forward.
Even the wasps cannot find my eyes.
Yes, eyes that were immediate once.
Eyes that have been truly awake, eyes that told the whole story— poor dumb animals.
Eyes that were pierced, little nail heads, light blue gunshots.
And once with a mouth like a cup, clay colored or blood colored, open like the breakwater for the lost ocean and open like the noose for the first head.
Once upon a time my hunger was for Jesus.
O my hunger! My hunger! Before he grew old he rode calmly into Jerusalem in search of death.
This time I certainly do not ask for understanding and yet I hope everyone else will turn their heads when an unrehearsed fish jumps on the surface of Echo Lake; when moonlight, its bass note turned up loud, hurts some building in Boston, when the truly beautiful lie together.
I think of this, surely, and would think of it far longer if I were not… if I were not at that old fire.
I could admit that I am only a coward crying me me me and not mention the little gnats, the moths, forced by circumstance to suck on the electric bulb.
But surely you know that everyone has a death, his own death, waiting for him.
So I will go now without old age or disease, wildly but accurately, knowing my best route, carried by that toy donkey I rode all these years, never asking, “Where are we going?” We were riding (if I'd only known) to this.
Dear friend, please do not think that I visualize guitars playing or my father arching his bone.
I do not even expect my mother's mouth.
I know that I have died before— once in November, once in June.
How strange to choose June again, so concrete with its green breasts and bellies.
Of course guitars will not play! The snakes will certainly not notice.
New York City will not mind.
At night the bats will beat on the trees, knowing it all, seeing what they sensed all day.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

Christmas Eve

 Oh sharp diamond, my mother! 
I could not count the cost 
of all your faces, your moods-- 
that present that I lost.
Sweet girl, my deathbed, my jewel-fingered lady, your portrait flickered all night by the bulbs of the tree.
Your face as calm as the moon over a mannered sea, presided at the family reunion, the twelve grandchildren you used to wear on your wrist, a three-months-old baby, a fat check you never wrote, the red-haired toddler who danced the twist, your aging daughters, each one a wife, each one talking to the family cook, each one avoiding your portrait, each one aping your life.
Later, after the party, after the house went to bed, I sat up drinking the Christmas brandy, watching your picture, letting the tree move in and out of focus.
The bulbs vibrated.
They were a halo over your forehead.
Then they were a beehive, blue, yellow, green, red; each with its own juice, each hot and alive stinging your face.
But you did not move.
I continued to watch, forcing myself, waiting, inexhaustible, thirty-five.
I wanted your eyes, like the shadows of two small birds, to change.
But they did not age.
The smile that gathered me in, all wit, all charm, was invincible.
Hour after hour I looked at your face but I could not pull the roots out of it.
Then I watched how the sun hit your red sweater, your withered neck, your badly painted flesh-pink skin.
You who led me by the nose, I saw you as you were.
Then I thought of your body as one thinks of murder-- Then I said Mary-- Mary, Mary, forgive me and then I touched a present for the child, the last I bred before your death; and then I touched my breast and then I touched the floor and then my breast again as if, somehow, it were one of yours.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem


 Some ghosts are women,
neither abstract nor pale,
their breasts as limp as killed fish.
Not witches, but ghosts who come, moving their useless arms like forsaken servants.
Not all ghosts are women, I have seen others; fat, white-bellied men, wearing their genitals like old rags.
Not devils, but ghosts.
This one thumps barefoot, lurching above my bed.
But that isn't all.
Some ghosts are children.
Not angels, but ghosts; curling like pink tea cups on any pillow, or kicking, showing their innocent bottoms, wailing for Lucifer.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

The Ballad Of The Lonely Masturbator

 The end of the affair is always death.
She's my workshop.
Slippery eye, out of the tribe of myself my breath finds you gone.
I horrify those who stand by.
I am fed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
Finger to finger, now she's mine.
She's not too far.
She's my encounter.
I beat her like a bell.
I recline in the bower where you used to mount her.
You borrowed me on the flowered spread.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
Take for instance this night, my love, that every single couple puts together with a joint overturning, beneath, above, the abundant two on sponge and feather, kneeling and pushing, head to head.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
I break out of my body this way, an annoying miracle.
Could I put the dream market on display? I am spread out.
I crucify.
My little plum is what you said.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
Then my black-eyed rival came.
The lady of water, rising on the beach, a piano at her fingertips, shame on her lips and a flute's speech.
And I was the knock-kneed broom instead.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
She took you the way a women takes a bargain dress off the rack and I broke the way a stone breaks.
I give back your books and fishing tack.
Today's paper says that you are wed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
The boys and girls are one tonight.
They unbutton blouses.
They unzip flies.
They take off shoes.
They turn off the light.
The glimmering creatures are full of lies.
They are eating each other.
They are overfed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

45 Mercy Street

 In my dream, 
drilling into the marrow 
of my entire bone, 
my real dream, 
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill 
searching for a street sign -- 
Not there.
I try the Back Bay.
Not there.
Not there.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window of the foyer, the three flights of the house with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, the servants.
I know the cupboard of Spode the boat of ice, solid silver, where the butter sits in neat squares like strange giant's teeth on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Not there.
Where did you go? 45 Mercy Street, with great-grandmother kneeling in her whale-bone corset and praying gently but fiercely to the wash basin, at five A.
at noon dozing in her wiggy rocker, grandfather taking a nap in the pantry, grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid, and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower on her forehead to cover the curl of when she was good and when she was.
And where she was begat and in a generation the third she will beget, me, with the stranger's seed blooming into the flower called Horrid.
I walk in a yellow dress and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes, enough pills, my wallet, my keys, and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five? I walk.
I walk.
I hold matches at street signs for it is dark, as dark as the leathery dead and I have lost my green Ford, my house in the suburbs, two little kids sucked up like pollen by the bee in me and a husband who has wiped off his eyes in order not to see my inside out and I am walking and looking and this is no dream just my oily life where the people are alibis and the street is unfindable for an entire lifetime.
Pull the shades down -- I don't care! Bolt the door, mercy, erase the number, rip down the street sign, what can it matter, what can it matter to this cheapskate who wants to own the past that went out on a dead ship and left me only with paper? Not there.
I open my pocketbook, as women do, and fish swim back and forth between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out, one by one and throw them at the street signs, and shoot my pocketbook into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off and slam into the cement wall of the clumsy calendar I live in, my life, and its hauled up notebooks.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem


 Live or die, but don't poison everything.
Well, death's been here for a long time -- it has a hell of a lot to do with hell and suspicion of the eye and the religious objects and how I mourned them when they were made obscene by my dwarf-heart's doodle.
The chief ingredient is mutilation.
And mud, day after day, mud like a ritual, and the baby on the platter, cooked but still human, cooked also with little maggots, sewn onto it maybe by somebody's mother, the damn bitch! Even so, I kept right on going on, a sort of human statement, lugging myself as if I were a sawed-off body in the trunk, the steamer trunk.
This became perjury of the soul.
It became an outright lie and even though I dressed the body it was still naked, still killed.
It was caught in the first place at birth, like a fish.
But I play it, dressed it up, dressed it up like somebody's doll.
Is life something you play? And all the time wanting to get rid of it? And further, everyone yelling at you to shut up.
And no wonder! People don't like to be told that you're sick and then be forced to watch you come down with the hammer.
Today life opened inside me like an egg and there inside after considerable digging I found the answer.
What a bargain! There was the sun, her yolk moving feverishly, tumbling her prize -- and you realize she does this daily! I'd known she was a purifier but I hadn't thought she was solid, hadn't known she was an answer.
God! It's a dream, lovers sprouting in the yard like celery stalks and better, a husband straight as a redwood, two daughters, two sea urchings, picking roses off my hackles.
If I'm on fire they dance around it and cook marshmallows.
And if I'm ice they simply skate on me in little ballet costumes.
Here, all along, thinking I was a killer, anointing myself daily with my little poisons.
But no.
I'm an empress.
I wear an apron.
My typewriter writes.
It didn't break the way it warned.
Even crazy, I'm as nice as a chocolate bar.
Even with the witches' gymnastics they trust my incalculable city, my corruptible bed.
O dearest three, I make a soft reply.
The witch comes on and you paint her pink.
I come with kisses in my hood and the sun, the smart one, rolling in my arms.
So I say Live and turn my shadow three times round to feed our puppies as they come, the eight Dalmatians we didn't drown, despite the warnings: The abort! The destroy! Despite the pails of water that waited, to drown them, to pull them down like stones, they came, each one headfirst, blowing bubbles the color of cataract-blue and fumbling for the tiny tits.
Just last week, eight Dalmatians, 3/4 of a lb.
, lined up like cord wood each like a birch tree.
I promise to love more if they come, because in spite of cruelty and the stuffed railroad cars for the ovens, I am not what I expected.
Not an Eichmann.
The poison just didn't take.
So I won't hang around in my hospital shift, repeating The Black Mass and all of it.
I say Live, Live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

The Division Of Parts

Mother, my Mary Gray, once resident of Gloucester and Essex County, a photostat of your will arrived in the mail today.
This is the division of money.
I am one third of your daughters counting my bounty or I am a queen alone in the parlor still, eating the bread and honey.
It is Good Friday.
Black birds pick at my window sill.
Your coat in my closet, your bright stones on my hand, the gaudy fur animals I do not know how to use, settle on me like a debt.
A week ago, while the hard March gales beat on your house, we sorted your things: obstacles of letters, family silver, eyeglasses and shoes.
Like some unseasoned Christmas, its scales rigged and reset, I bundled out gifts I did not choose.
Now the houts of The Cross rewind.
In Boston, the devout work their cold knees toward that sweet martyrdom that Christ planned.
My timely loss is too customary to note; and yet I planned to suffer and I cannot.
It does not please my yankee bones to watch where the dying is done in its usly hours.
Black birds peck at my window glass and Easter will take its ragged son.
The clutter of worship that you taught me, Mary Gray, is old.
I imitate a memory of belief that I do not own.
I trip on your death and jesus, my stranger floats up over my Christian home, wearing his straight thorn tree.
I have cast my lot and am one third thief of you.
Time, that rearranger of estates, equips me with your garments, but not with grief.
This winter when cancer began its ugliness I grieved with you each day for three months and found you in your private nook of the medicinal palace for New England Women and never once forgot how long it took.
I read to you from The New Yorker, ate suppers you wouldn't eat, fussed with your flowers, joked with your nurses, as if I were the balm among lepers, as if I could undo a life in hours if I never said goodbye.
But you turned old, all your fifty-eight years sliding like masks from your skull; and at the end I packed your nightgowns in suitcases, paid the nurses, came riding home as if I'd been told I could pretend people live in places.
Since then I have pretended ease, loved with the trickeries of need, but not enough to shed my daughterhood or sweeten him as a man.
I drink the five o' clock martinis and poke at this dry page like a rough goat.
Fool! I fumble my lost childhood for a mother and lounge in sad stuff with love to catch and catch as catch can.
And Christ still waits.
I have tried to exorcise the memory of each event and remain still, a mixed child, heavy with cloths of you.
Sweet witch, you are my worried guide.
Such dangerous angels walk through Lent.
Their walls creak Anne! Convert! Convert! My desk moves.
Its cavr murmurs Boo and I am taken and beguiled.
Or wrong.
For all the way I've come I'll have to go again.
Instead, I must convert to love as reasonable as Latin, as sold as earthenware: an equilibrium I never knew.
And Lent will keep its hurt for someone else.
Christ knows enough staunch guys have hitched him in trouble.
thinking his sticks were badges to wear.
Spring rusts on its skinny branch and last summer's lawn is soggy and brown.
Yesterday is just a number.
All of its winters avalanche out of sight.
What was, is gone.
Mother, last night I slept in your Bonwit Teller nightgown.
Divided, you climbed into my head.
There in my jabbering dream I heard my own angry cries and I cursed you, Dame keep out of my slumber.
My good Dame, you are dead.
And Mother, three stones slipped from your glittering eyes.
Now it's Friday's noon and I would still curse you with my rhyming words and bring you flapping back, old love, old circus knitting, god-in-her-moon, all fairest in my lang syne verse, the gauzy bride among the children, the fancy amid the absurd and awkward, that horn for hounds that skipper homeward, that museum keeper of stiff starfish, that blaze within the pilgrim woman, a clown mender, a dove's cheek among the stones, my Lady of first words, this is the division of ways.
And now, while Christ stays fastened to his Crucifix so that love may praise his sacrifice and not the grotesque metaphor, you come, a brave ghost, to fix in my mind without praise or paradise to make me your inheritor.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

The Exorcists

 And I solemnly swear
on the chill of secrecy
that I know you not, this room never,
the swollen dress I wear,
nor the anonymous spoons that free me,
nor this calendar nor the pulse we pare and cover.
For all these present, before that wandering ghost, that yellow moth of my summer bed, I say: this small event is not.
So I prepare, am dosed in ether and will not cry what stays unsaid.
I was brown with August, the clapping waves at my thighs and a storm riding into the cove.
We swam while the others beached and burst for their boarded huts, their hale cries shouting back to us and the hollow slam of the dory against the float.
Black arms of thunder strapped upon us, squalled out, we breathed in rain and stroked past the boat.
We thrashed for shore as if we were trapped in green and that suddenly inadequate stain of lightning belling around our skin.
Bodies in air we raced for the empty lobsterman-shack.
It was yellow inside, the sound of the underwing of the sun.
I swear, I most solemnly swear, on all the bric-a-brac of summer loves, I know you not.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

All My Pretty Ones

 Father, this year's jinx rides us apart 
where you followed our mother to her cold slumber; 
a second shock boiling its stone to your heart,
leaving me here to shuffle and disencumber
you from the residence you could not afford:
a gold key, your half of a woolen mill,
twenty suits from Dunne's, an English Ford,
the love and legal verbiage of another will, 
boxes of pictures of people I do not know.
I touch their cardboard faces.
They must go.
But the eyes, as thick as wood in this album, hold me.
I stop here, where a small boy waits in a ruffled dress for someone to come.
for this soldier who holds his bugle like a toy or for this velvet lady who cannot smile.
Is this your father's father, this Commodore in a mailman suit? My father, time meanwhile has made it unimportant who you are looking for.
I'll never know what these faces are all about.
I lock them into their book and throw them out.
Tlis is the yellow scrapbook that you began the year I was born; as crackling now and wrinkly as tobacco leaves: clippings where Hoover outran the Democrats, wiggling his dry finger at me and Prohibition; news where the Hindenburg went down and recent years where you went flush on war.
This year, solvent but sick, you meant to marry that pretty widow in a one-month rush.
But before you had that second chance, I cried on your fat shoulder.
Three days later you died.
These are the snapshots of marriage, stopped in places.
Side by side at the rail toward Nassau now; here, with the winner's cup at the speedboat races, here, in tails at the Cotillion, you take a bow, here, by our kennel of dogs with their pink eyes, running like show-bred pigs in their chain-link pen; here, at the horseshow where my sister wins a prize; Now I fold you down, my drunkard, my navigator, my first lost keeper, to love or look at later.
I hold a five-year diary that my mother kept for three years, telling all she does not say of your alcoholic tendency.
You overslept, she writes.
My God, father, each Christmas Day with your blood, will I drink down your glass of wine? The diary of your hurly-burly years goes to my shelf to wait for my age to pass.
Only in this hoarded span will love persevere.
Whether you are pretty or not, I outlive you, bend down my strange face to yours and forgive you.
Written by Anne Sexton | Create an image from this poem

Flee On Your Donkey

 Because there was no other place
to flee to,
I came back to the scene of the disordered senses,
came back last night at midnight,
arriving in the thick June night
without luggage or defenses,
giving up my car keys and my cash,
keeping only a pack of Salem cigarettes
the way a child holds on to a toy.
I signed myself in where a stranger puts the inked-in X's— for this is a mental hospital, not a child's game.
Today an intern knocks my knees, testing for reflexes.
Once I would have winked and begged for dope.
Today I am terribly patient.
Today crows play black-jack on the stethoscope.
Everyone has left me except my muse, that good nurse.
She stays in my hand, a mild white mouse.
The curtains, lazy and delicate, billow and flutter and drop like the Victorian skirts of my two maiden aunts who kept an antique shop.
Hornets have been sent.
They cluster like floral arrangements on the screen.
Hornets, dragging their thin stingers, hover outside, all knowing, hissing: the hornet knows.
I heard it as a child but what was it that he meant? The hornet knows! What happened to Jack and Doc and Reggy? Who remembers what lurks in the heart of man? What did The Green Hornet mean, he knows? Or have I got it wrong? Is it The Shadow who had seen me from my bedside radio? Now it's Dinn, Dinn, Dinn! while the ladies in the next room argue and pick their teeth.
Upstairs a girl curls like a snail; in another room someone tries to eat a shoe; meanwhile an adolescent pads up and down the hall in his white tennis socks.
A new doctor makes rounds advertising tranquilizers, insulin, or shock to the uninitiated.
Six years of such small preoccupations! Six years of shuttling in and out of this place! O my hunger! My hunger! I could have gone around the world twice or had new children - all boys.
It was a long trip with little days in it and no new places.
In here, it's the same old crowd, the same ruined scene.
The alcoholic arrives with his gold culbs.
The suicide arrives with extra pills sewn into the lining of her dress.
The permanent guests have done nothing new.
Their faces are still small like babies with jaundice.
Meanwhile, they carried out my mother, wrapped like somebody's doll, in sheets, bandaged her jaw and stuffed up her holes.
My father, too.
He went out on the rotten blood he used up on other women in the Middle West.
He went out, a cured old alcoholic on crooked feet and useless hands.
He went out calling for his father who died all by himself long ago - that fat banker who got locked up, his genes suspened like dollars, wrapped up in his secret, tied up securely in a straitjacket.
But you, my doctor, my enthusiast, were better than Christ; you promised me another world to tell me who I was.
I spent most of my time, a stranger, damned and in trance—that little hut, that naked blue-veined place, my eyes shut on the confusing office, eyes circling into my childhood, eyes newly cut.
Years of hints strung out—a serialized case history— thirty-three years of the same dull incest that sustained us both.
You, my bachelor analyst, who sat on Marlborough Street, sharing your office with your mother and giving up cigarettes each New Year, were the new God, the manager of the Gideon Bible.
I was your third-grader with a blue star on my forehead.
In trance I could be any age, voice, gesture—all turned backward like a drugstore clock.
Awake, I memorized dreams.
Dreams came into the ring like third string fighters, each one a bad bet who might win because there was no other.
I stared at them, concentrating on the abyss the way one looks down into a rock quarry, uncountable miles down, my hands swinging down like hooks to pull dreams up out of their cage.
O my hunger! My hunger! Once, outside your office, I collapsed in the old-fashioned swoon between the illegally parked cars.
I threw myself down, pretending dead for eight hours.
I thought I had died into a snowstorm.
Above my head chains cracked along like teeth digging their way through the snowy street.
I lay there like an overcoat that someone had thrown away.
You carried me back in, awkwardly, tenderly, with help of the red-haired secretary who was built like a lifeguard.
My shoes, I remember, were lost in the snowbank as if I planned never to walk again.
That was the winter that my mother died, half mad on morphine, blown up, at last, like a pregnant pig.
I was her dreamy evil eye.
In fact, I carried a knife in my pocketbook— my husband's good L.
Bean hunting knife.
I wasn't sure if I should slash a tire or scrape the guts out of some dream.
You taught me to believe in dreams; thus I was the dredger.
I held them like an old woman with arthritic fingers, carefully straining the water out— sweet dark playthings, and above all, mysterious until they grew mournful and weak.
O my hunger! My hunger! I was the one who opened the warm eyelid like a surgeon and brought forth young girls to grunt like fish.
I told you, I said— but I was lying— that the kife was for my mother .
and then I delivered her.
The curtains flutter out and slump against the bars.
They are my two thin ladies named Blanche and Rose.
The grounds outside are pruned like an estate at Newport.
Far off, in the field, something yellow grows.
Was it last month or last year that the ambulance ran like a hearse with its siren blowing on suicide— Dinn, dinn, dinn!— a noon whistle that kept insisting on life all the way through the traffic lights? I have come back but disorder is not what it was.
I have lost the trick of it! The innocence of it! That fellow-patient in his stovepipe hat with his fiery joke, his manic smile— even he seems blurred, small and pale.
I have come back, recommitted, fastened to the wall like a bathroom plunger, held like a prisoner who was so poor he fell in love with jail.
I stand at this old window complaining of the soup, examining the grounds, allowing myself the wasted life.
Soon I will raise my face for a white flag, and when God enters the fort, I won't spit or gag on his finger.
I will eat it like a white flower.
Is this the old trick, the wasting away, the skull that waits for its dose of electric power? This is madness but a kind of hunger.
What good are my questions in this hierarchy of death where the earth and the stones go Dinn! Dinn! Dinn! It is hardly a feast.
It is my stomach that makes me suffer.
Turn, my hungers! For once make a deliberate decision.
There are brains that rot here like black bananas.
Hearts have grown as flat as dinner plates.
Anne, Anne, flee on your donkey, flee this sad hotel, ride out on some hairy beast, gallop backward pressing your buttocks to his withers, sit to his clumsy gait somehow.
Ride out any old way you please! In this place everyone talks to his own mouth.
That's what it means to be crazy.
Those I loved best died of it— the fool's disease.