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Best Famous Anne Sexton Poems

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by Anne Sexton |

The Stand-Ins

 In the dream
the swastika is neon
and flashes like a strobe light
into my eyes, all colors,
all vibrations
and I see the killer in him
and he turns on an oven,
an oven, an oven, an oven,
and on a pie plate he sticks
in my Yellow Star
and then
then when it is ready for serving—
this dream goes off into the wings
and on stage The Cross appears,
with Jesus sticking to it
and He is breathing
and breathing
and He is breathing
and breathing
and then He speaks,
a kind of whisper,
and says . . .
This is the start.
This is the end.
This is a light.
This is a start.
I woke.
I did not know the hour,
an hour of night like thick scum
but I considered the dreams,
the two: Swastika, Crucifix,
and said: Oh well,
it does't belong to me,
if a cigar can be a cigar
then a dream can be a dream.
And went back to sleep
and another start.

by Anne Sexton |

The Fury Of Cooks

 Herbs, garlic, 
cheese, please let me in! 
Souffles, salad, 
Parker House rolls, 
please let me in! 
Cook Helen, 
why are you so cross, 
why is your kitchen verboten? 
Couldn't you just teach me 
to bake a potato, 
to bake a potato, 
that charm, 
that young prince? 
No! No! 
This is my county! 
You shout silently. 
Couldn't you just show me 
the gravy. How you drill it out 
of the stomach of that bird? 
Helen, Helen, 
let me in, 
let me feel the flour, 
is it blinding and frightening, 
this stuff that makes cakes? 
Helen, Helen, 
the kitchen is your dog 
and you pat it 
and love it 
and keep it clean. 
But all these things, 
all these dishes of things 
come through the swinging door 
and I don't know from where? 
Give me some tomato aspic, Helen! 
I don't want to be alone.

by Anne Sexton |

The Fury Of Sundays

 Moist, moist, 
the heat leaking through the hinges, 
sun baking the roof like a pie 
and I and thou and she 
eating, working, sweating, 
droned up on the heat. 
The sun as read as the cop car siren. 
The sun as red as the algebra marks. 
The sun as red as two electric eyeballs. 
She wanting to take a bath in jello. 
You and me sipping vodka and soda, 
ice cubes melting like the Virgin Mary. 
You cutting the lawn, fixing the machines, 
all htis leprous day and then more vodka, 
more soda and the pond forgiving our bodies, 
the pond sucking out the throb. 
Our bodies were trash. 
We leave them on the shore. 
I and thou and she 
swin like minnows, 
losing all our queens and kinds, 
losing our hells and our tongues, 
cool, cool, all day that Sunday in July 
when we were young and did not look 
into the abyss, 
that God spot.

by Anne Sexton |


 A woman 
who loves a woman 
is forever young. 
The mentor 
and the student 
feed off each other. 
Many a girl 
had an old aunt 
who locked her in the study 
to keep the boys away. 
They would play rummy 
or lie on the couch 
and touch and touch. 
Old breast against young breast... 
Let your dress fall down your shoulder, 
come touch a copy of you 
for I am at the mercy of rain, 
for I have left the three Christs of Ypsilanti 
for I have left the long naps of Ann Arbor 
and the church spires have turned to stumps. 
The sea bangs into my cloister 
for the politicians are dying, 
and dying so hold me, my young dear, 
hold me... 

The yellow rose will turn to cinder 
and New York City will fall in 
before we are done so hold me, 
my young dear, hold me. 
Put your pale arms around my neck. 
Let me hold your heart like a flower 
lest it bloom and collapse. 
Give me your skin 
as sheer as a cobweb, 
let me open it up 
and listen in and scoop out the dark. 
Give me your nether lips 
all puffy with their art 
and I will give you angel fire in return. 
We are two clouds 
glistening in the bottle galss. 
We are two birds 
washing in the same mirror. 
We were fair game 
but we have kept out of the cesspool. 
We are strong. 
We are the good ones. 
Do not discover us 
for we lie together all in green 
like pond weeds. 
Hold me, my young dear, hold me. 

They touch their delicate watches 
one at a time. 
They dance to the lute 
two at a time. 
They are as tender as bog moss. 
They play mother-me-do 
all day. 
A woman 
who loves a woman 
is forever young.

Once there was a witch's garden 
more beautiful than Eve's 
with carrots growing like little fish, 
with many tomatoes rich as frogs, 
onions as ingrown as hearts, 
the squash singing like a dolphin 
and one patch given over wholly to magic -- 
rampion, a kind of salad root 
a kind of harebell more potent than penicillin, 
growing leaf by leaf, skin by skin. 
as rapt and as fluid as Isadoran Duncan. 
However the witch's garden was kept locked 
and each day a woman who was with child 
looked upon the rampion wildly, 
fancying that she would die 
if she could not have it. 
Her husband feared for her welfare 
and thus climbed into the garden 
to fetch the life-giving tubers. 

Ah ha, cried the witch, 
whose proper name was Mother Gothel, 
you are a thief and now you will die. 
However they made a trade, 
typical enough in those times. 
He promised his child to Mother Gothel 
so of course when it was born 
she took the child away with her. 
She gave the child the name Rapunzel, 
another name for the life-giving rampion. 
Because Rapunzel was a beautiful girl 
Mother Gothel treasured her beyond all things. 
As she grew older Mother Gothel thought: 
None but I will ever see her or touch her. 
She locked her in a tow without a door 
or a staircase. It had only a high window. 
When the witch wanted to enter she cried" 
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. 
Rapunzel's hair fell to the ground like a rainbow. 
It was as strong as a dandelion 
and as strong as a dog leash. 
Hand over hand she shinnied up 
the hair like a sailor 
and there in the stone-cold room, 
as cold as a museum, 
Mother Gothel cried: 
Hold me, my young dear, hold me, 
and thus they played mother-me-do. 

Years later a prince came by 
and heard Rapunzel singing her loneliness. 
That song pierced his heart like a valentine 
but he could find no way to get to her. 
Like a chameleon he hid himself among the trees 
and watched the witch ascend the swinging hair. 
The next day he himself called out: 
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, 
and thus they met and he declared his love. 
What is this beast, she thought, 
with muscles on his arms 
like a bag of snakes? 
What is this moss on his legs? 
What prickly plant grows on his cheeks? 
What is this voice as deep as a dog? 
Yet he dazzled her with his answers. 
Yet he dazzled her with his dancing stick. 
They lay together upon the yellowy threads, 
swimming through them 
like minnows through kelp 
and they sang out benedictions like the Pope. 

Each day he brought her a skein of silk 
to fashion a ladder so they could both escape. 
But Mother Gothel discovered the plot 
and cut off Rapunzel's hair to her ears 
and took her into the forest to repent. 
When the prince came the witch fastened 
the hair to a hook and let it down. 
When he saw Rapunzel had been banished 
he flung himself out of the tower, a side of beef. 
He was blinded by thorns that prickled him like tacks. 
As blind as Oedipus he wandered for years 
until he heard a song that pierced his heart 
like that long-ago valentine. 
As he kissed Rapunzel her tears fell on his eyes 
and in the manner of such cure-alls 
his sight was suddenly restored. 

They lived happily as you might expect 
proving that mother-me-do 
can be outgrown, 
just as the fish on Friday, 
just as a tricycle. 
The world, some say, 
is made up of couples. 
A rose must have a stem. 

As for Mother Gothel, 
her heart shrank to the size of a pin, 
never again to say: Hold me, my young dear, 
hold me, 
and only as she dreamed of the yellow hair 
did moonlight sift into her mouth.

by Anne Sexton |


 Put on a clean shirt
before you die, some Russian said.
Nothing with drool, please,
no egg spots, no blood,
no sweat, no sperm.
You want me clean, God,
so I'll try to comply.

The hat I was married in,
will it do?
White, broad, fake flowers in a tiny array.
It's old-fashioned, as stylish as a bedbug,
but is suits to die in something nostalgic.

And I'll take
my painting shirt
washed over and over of course
spotted with every yellow kitchen I've painted.
God, you don't mind if I bring all my kitchens?
They hold the family laughter and the soup.

For a bra
(need we mention it?),
the padded black one that my lover demeaned
when I took it off.
He said, "Where'd it all go?"

And I'll take
the maternity skirt of my ninth month,
a window for the love-belly
that let each baby pop out like and apple,
the water breaking in the restaurant,
making a noisy house I'd like to die in.

For underpants I'll pick white cotton,
the briefs of my childhood,
for it was my mother's dictum
that nice girls wore only white cotton.
If my mother had lived to see it
she would have put a WANTED sign up in the post office
for the black, the red, the blue I've worn.
Still, it would be perfectly fine with me
to die like a nice girl
smelling of Clorox and Duz.
Being sixteen-in-the-pants
I would die full of questions.

by Anne Sexton |

Some Foreign Letters

 I knew you forever and you were always old,
soft white lady of my heart. Surely you would scold
me for sitting up late, reading your letters,
as if these foreign postmarks were meant for me.
You posted them first in London, wearing furs
and a new dress in the winter of eighteen-ninety.
I read how London is dull on Lord Mayor's Day,
where you guided past groups of robbers, the sad holes
of Whitechapel, clutching your pocketbook, on the way
to Jack the Ripper dissecting his famous bones.
This Wednesday in Berlin, you say, you will
go to a bazaar at Bismarck's house. And I
see you as a young girl in a good world still,
writing three generations before mine. I try
to reach into your page and breathe it back...
but life is a trick, life is a kitten in a sack.
This is the sack of time your death vacates.
How distant your are on your nickel-plated skates
in the skating park in Berlin, gliding past
me with your Count, while a military band
plays a Strauss waltz. I loved you last,
a pleated old lady with a crooked hand.
Once you read Lohengrin and every goose
hung high while you practiced castle life
in Hanover. Tonight your letters reduce
history to a guess. The count had a wife.
You were the old maid aunt who lived with us.
Tonight I read how the winter howled around
the towers of Schloss Schwobber, how the tedious
language grew in your jaw, how you loved the sound
of the music of the rats tapping on the stone
floors. When you were mine you wore an earphone.
This is Wednesday, May 9th, near Lucerne,
Switzerland, sixty-nine years ago. I learn
your first climb up Mount San Salvatore;
this is the rocky path, the hole in your shoes,
the yankee girl, the iron interior
of her sweet body. You let the Count choose
your next climb. You went together, armed
with alpine stocks, with ham sandwiches
and seltzer wasser. You were not alarmed
by the thick woods of briars and bushes,
nor the rugged cliff, nor the first vertigo
up over Lake Lucerne. The Count sweated
with his coat off as you waded through top snow.
He held your hand and kissed you. You rattled
down on the train to catch a steam boat for home;
or other postmarks: Paris, verona, Rome.
This is Italy. You learn its mother tongue.
I read how you walked on the Palatine among
the ruins of the palace of the Caesars;
alone in the Roman autumn, alone since July.
When you were mine they wrapped you out of here
with your best hat over your face. I cried
because I was seventeen. I am older now.
I read how your student ticket admitted you
into the private chapel of the Vatican and how
you cheered with the others, as we used to do
on the fourth of July. One Wednesday in November
you watched a balloon, painted like a silver abll,
float up over the Forum, up over the lost emperors,
to shiver its little modern cage in an occasional
breeze. You worked your New England conscience out
beside artisans, chestnut vendors and the devout.
Tonight I will learn to love you twice;
learn your first days, your mid-Victorian face.
Tonight I will speak up and interrupt
your letters, warning you that wars are coming,
that the Count will die, that you will accept
your America back to live like a prim thing
on the farm in Maine. I tell you, you will come
here, to the suburbs of Boston, to see the blue-nose
world go drunk each night, to see the handsome
children jitterbug, to feel your left ear close
one Friday at Symphony. And I tell you,
you will tip your boot feet out of that hall,
rocking from its sour sound, out onto
the crowded street, letting your spectacles fall
and your hair net tangle as you stop passers-by
to mumble your guilty love while your ears die.

by Anne Sexton |


 Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart, 
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day, 
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.

by Anne Sexton |

Lessons In Hunger

 "Do you like me?"
I asked the blue blazer.
No answer.
Silence bounced out of his books.
Silence fell off his tongue
and sat between us
and clogged my throat.
It slaughtered my trust.
It tore cigarettes out of my mouth.
We exchanged blind words,
and I did not cry,
and I did not beg,
blackness lunged in my heart,
and something that had been good,
a sort of kindly oxygen,
turned into a gas oven.
Do you like me?
How absurd!
What's a question like that?
What's a silence like that?
And what am I hanging around for,
riddled with what his silence said?

by Anne Sexton |


 Slim inquirer, while the old fathers sleep
you are reworking their soil, you have
a grocery store there down under the earth
and it is well stocked with broken wine bottles,
old cigars, old door knobs and earth,
that great brown flour that you kiss each day.
There are dark stars in the cool evening and
you fondle them like killer birds' beaks.
But what I want to know is why when small boys
dig you up for curiosity and cut you in half
why each half lives and crawls away as if whole.
Have you no beginning and end? Which heart is
the real one? Which eye the seer? Why
is it in the infinite plan that you would
be severed and rise from the dead like a gargoyle
with two heads?

by David Lehman |


 for Jim Cummins 

In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
twin. Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman," 
about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform. Donna dressed 
 like Wallace Stevens 
in a seersucker summer suit. To town came Ted Berrigan, 
saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell."
But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine. 

At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's
latest: the Pulitzer. A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton. 
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell, 
pour something into Donna's drink. "In the Walt Whitman 
Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan, 
pulling on a Chesterfield. Everyone laughed, except T. S. Eliot. 

I asked for directions. "You turn right on Gertrude Stein,
then bear left. Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine 
and you're there," Jim said. When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan 
with cigarette ash in his beard. Graffiti about Anne Sexton
decorated the men's room walls. Beth had bought a quart of Walt 
Donna looked blank. "Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell. 

You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell. 
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell. 
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as 
 Walt Whitman. 
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura 
 of Philip Levine. 
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she 
 returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan." 

Donna was candid. "When the spirit of Ted Berrigan 
comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell, 
while he stood dejected at the xerox machine. Anne Sexton
came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan 
had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine. 
The cop read him the riot act. "I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt 

Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman. 
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan."
The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine, 
up a point and a half on strong earnings. Marvin Bell 
ended the day unchanged. Analyst Richard Howard
recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.

In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton, 
not both. Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with 
 Marianne Moore.
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.