We Need More Poetry. This is Anne Sexton.

Anne Sexton is more than her suicide. She died the day I came into the world, and ever since I read "Her Kind," which mystified me at the time, I wanted to know more. So her words became a green and growing thing for me, a place of danger and fear and sadness and morbidity--beautiful places all, because of her words--sinuous, a strange tangle that somehow makes sense to the heart. I've read all her collections, keep the beautiful full collection close at hand, have read her daughter's biography. Her New England. Her beauty. Her fraught love for family--for her children, her beloved nana--those are my favorite poems of hers. She wrote her poems to keep the doctor informed, to keep him away. And in her confessionals came the kind of tenderness that holds, holds with a light grasp, the terrifying beauty of love. She is more. More than that single August day in 1974. She is the light I sometimes see by, one that shines on a glistening lake, a lake lapping at a boat. In the moonlight. On the way to Mercy Street, her old home.

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 

Music Swims Back to Me

Wait Mister. Which way is home?
They turned the light out
and the dark is moving in the corner.
There are no sign posts in this room,
four ladies, over eighty,
in diapers every one of them.
La la la, Oh music swims back to me
and I can feel the tune they played
the night they left me
in this private institution on a hill.

Imagine it. A radio playing
and everyone here was crazy.
I liked it and danced in a circle.
Music pours over the sense
and in a funny way
music sees more than I.
I mean it remembers better;
remembers the first night here.
It was the strangled cold of November;
even the stars were strapped in the sky
and that moon too bright
forking through the bars to stick me
with a singing in the head.
I have forgotten all the rest.

They lock me in this chair at eight a.m.
and there are no signs to tell the way,
just the radio beating to itself
and the song that remembers
more than I. Oh, la la la,
this music swims back to me.
The night I came I danced a circle
and was not afraid.

Admonitions to A Special Person

Watch out for power, 
for its avalanche can bury you, 
snow, snow, snow, smothering your mountain.

Watch out for hate, 
it can open its mouth and you'll fling yourself out
to eat off your leg, an instant leper.

Watch out for friends, 
because when you betray them, 
as you will, 
they will bury their heads in the toilet
and flush themselves away.

Watch out for intellect, 
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down, 
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.

Watch out for games, the actor's part, 
the speech planned, known, given, 
for they will give you away
and you will stand like a naked little boy, 
pissing on your own child-bed.

Watch out for love
(unless it is true, 
and every part of you says yes including the toes) , 
it will wrap you up like a mummy, 
and your scream won't be heard
and none of your running will end.

Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on, 
give your body to it, give your laugh to it, 
give, when the gravelly sand takes you, 
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can't be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

Special person, 
if I were you I'd pay no attention
to admonitions from me, 
made somewhat out of your words
and somewhat out of mine.
A collaboration.
I do not believe a word I have said, 
except some, except I think of you like a young tree
with pasted-on leaves and know you'll root
and the real green thing will come.

Let go. Let go.
Oh special person, 
possible leaves, 
this typewriter likes you on the way to them, 
but wants to break crystal glasses
in celebration, 
for you, 
when the dark crust is thrown off
and you float all around
like a happened balloon. 

Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman

My daughter, at eleven
(almost twelve), is like a garden.

Oh, darling! Born in that sweet birthday suit
and having owned it and known it for so long,
now you must watch high noon enter -
noon, that ghost hour.
Oh, funny little girl – this one under a blueberry sky,
this one! How can I say that I've known
just what you know and just where you are?

It's not a strange place, this odd home
where your face sits in my hand
so full of distance,
so full of its immediate fever.
The summer has seized you,
as when, last month in Amalfi, I saw
lemons as large as your desk-side globe -
that miniature map of the world -
and I could mention, too,
the market stalls of mushrooms
and garlic buds all engorged.
Or I think even of the orchard next door,
where the berries are done
and the apples are beginning to swell.
And once, with our first backyard,
I remember I planted an acre of yellow beans
we couldn't eat.

Oh, little girl,
my stringbean,
how do you grow?
You grow this way.
You are too many to eat.

I hear
as in a dream
the conversation of the old wives
speaking of womanhood.
I remember that I heard nothing myself.
I was alone.
I waited like a target.

Let high noon enter –
the hour of the ghosts.
Once the Romans believed
that noon was the ghost hour,
and I can believe it, too,
under that startling sun,
and someday they will come to you,
someday, men bare to the waist, young Romans
at noon where they belong,
with ladders and hammers
while no one sleeps.

But before they enter
I will have said,
Your bones are lovely,
and before their strange hands
there was always this hand that formed.

Oh, darling, let your body in,
let it tie you in,
in comfort.
What I want to say, Linda,
is that women are born twice.

If I could have watched you grow
as a magical mother might,
if I could have seen through my magical transparent belly,
there would have been such a ripening within:
your embryo,
the seed taking on its own,
life clapping the bedpost,
bones from the pond,
thumbs and two mysterious eyes,
the awfully human head,
the heart jumping like a puppy,
the important lungs,
the becoming -
while it becomes!
as it does now,
a world of its own,
a delicate place.

I say hello
to such shakes and knockings and high jinks,
such music, such sprouts,
such dancing-mad-bears of music,
such necessary sugar,
such goings-on!

Oh, little girl,
my stringbean,
how do you grow?
You grow this way.
You are too many to eat.

What I want to say, Linda,
is that there is nothing in your body that lies.
All that is new is telling the truth.
I'm here, that somebody else,
an old tree in the background.

stand still at your door,
sure of yourself, a white stone, a good stone -
as exceptional as laughter
you will strike fire,
that new thing!


A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember,
I lay on the lawn at night,
clover wrinkling over me,
the wise stars bedding over me,
my mother's window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father's window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman's yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.

Peter Gabriel Wrote a Song About Her:

Words support like bone.


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