Saturday, April 14, 2012

Those Times...

(Written June 1963, from Anne Sexton's 1966 Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, "Live or Die.")

At six
I lived in a graveyard full of dolls,
avoiding myself,
my body, the suspect
in its grotesque house.
I was locked in my room all day behind a gate,
a prison cell.
I was the exile
who sat all day in a knot.

I will speak of the little childhood cruelties,
being a third child,
the last given
and the last taken --
of the nightly humiliations when Mother undressed me,
of the life of the daytime, locked in my room --
being the unwanted, the mistake
that Mother used to keep Father
from his divorce.
The romantic's friend,
romantics who fly into maps
of other countries,
hips and noses and mountains,
into Asia or the Black Forest,
or caught by 1928,
the year of the me,
by mistake,
not for divorce
but instead.

The me who refused to suck on breasts
she couldn't please,
the me whose body grew unsurely,
the me who stepped on the noses of dolls
she couldn't break.
I think of the dolls,
so well made,
so perfectly put together
as I pressed them against me,
kissing their little imaginary mouths.
I remember their smooth skin,
those newly delivered,
the pink skin and the serious China-blue eyes.
They came from a mysterious country
without the pang of birth,
born quietly and well.
When I wanted to visit,
the closet is where I rehearsed my life,
all day among shoes,
away from the glare of the bulb in the ceiling,
away from the bed and the heavy table
and the same terrible rose repeating on the walls.

I did not question it.
I hid in the closet as one hides in a tree.
I grew into it like a root
and yet I planned such plans of flight,
believing I would take my body into the sky,
dragging it behind me like a large bed.
And although I was unskilled
I was sure to get there or at least
to move up like an elevator.
With such dreams,
storing their energy like a bull,
I planned my growth and my womanhood
as one choreographs a dance.

I knew that if I waited among shoes
I was sure to outgrow them,
the heavy oxfords, the thick execution reds,
shoes that lay together like partners,
the sneakers thick with Griffin eyewash
and then the dresses swinging above me,
always above me, empty and sensible
with sashes and puffs,
with collars and two-inch hems
and evil fortunes in their belts.

I sat all day
stuffing my heart into a shoe box,
avoiding the precious window
as if it were an ugly eye
through which birds coughed,
chained to the heaving trees;
avoiding the wallpaper of the room
where tongues bloomed over and over,
bursting from lips like sea flowers --
and in this way I waited out the day
until my mother,
the large one,
came to force me to undress.
I lay there silently,
hoarding my small dignity.
I did not ask about the gate or the closet.
I did not question the bedtime ritual
where, on the cold bathroom tiles,
I was spread out daily
and examined for flaws.

I did not know
that my bones,
those solids, those pieces of sculpture
would not splinter.

I did not know the woman I would be
nor that blood would bloom in me
each month like an exotic flower,
nor that children,
two monuments,
would break from between my legs
two cramped girls breathing carelessly,
each asleep in her tiny beauty.
I did not know that my life, in the end,
would run over my mother's like a truck
and all that would remain
from the year I was six
was a small hole in my heart, a deaf spot,
so that I might hear
the unsaid more clearly.


She breaks my heart.

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