Tag Archives: anne sexton

Monday’s Verse, February 2/09

I know, I know, y’all thought I was gonna print some ode to the Pittsburgh Steelers today. Well here’s my paean: way to go Steelers, GREAT Super Bowl game for all. No, having been in Boston all weekend I’m suffused with a nostalgia I didn’t even know was there. Thought of many ghosts while walkling in Central and Harvard Squares, including that of Anne Sexton (1928-1974).

It’s no surprise that her name anagrammizes to a bashful high school student’s reaction upon first reading her work: “N-n-neato, sex!” This poem, however, finds Sexton in an expansive mood, using the river as a universalizing touch for her moment of personal reflection. One gets that way around rivers, no? Sometimes, you can step into the same river twice. -ed.

Just once I knew what life was for.
In Boston, quite suddenly, I understood;
walked there along the Charles River,
watched the lights copying themselves,
all neoned and strobe-hearted, opening
their mouths as wide as opera singers;
counted the stars, my little campaigners,
my scar daisies, and knew that I walked my love
on the night green side of it and cried
my heart to the eastbound cars and cried
my heart to the westbound cars and took
my truth across a small humped bridge
and hurried my truth, the charm of it, home
and hoarded these constants into morning
only to find them gone.

Monday’s Verse, February 2/09


I decided last week, duringĀ  my brief researches into Anne Sexton, that I will produce a little theme-pack on disorientation and directions for the next few weeks. Note: the exception will be next week, and those who have been in this game a while know why that is. Monday’s Verse will also run on Saturday next week, couple days early.

But for now, disorientation. It’s been said that themes of dislocation and fragmentation came to the forefront of poetry in English following World War I–perhaps appropriately, following social upheavals and physical destruction on a scale most Europeans had not witnessed before (one can complicate this claim, but here is probably not the place to do so). This theme was pushed even further in the post-World War II era, when the type of horror was not only harsh to witness, but difficult to understand. Artists of all genre (painting, film, theater, novel, etc.) used disorienting techniques and themes in an attempt to come to grips with the unreal reality they lived in. I only mention these thumbnail sketches because I consistently see in the mid-late 20th century art that I favor, poems and paintings that end up looking like directions to some kind of hellish wake. The language (or in painting, representational technique, or in film, camera placement) may be normal, even prosaic. But the ground shifts beneath one’s feet, and people and objects lose their reference: “where the people are alibis/ and the street is unfindable for an/ entire lifetime.” Even an upper-crust Bostonian like Sexton was not immune. -ed.
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.M.
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,
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