The Last Song of Anne Sexton

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My whole life it seems I’ve felt the weight of a gun held to my skull.
It’s an insatiable lust for surrender.
The awful rowing towards God.
Every time that oar smacks the River Styx, I fight within myself to keep from throwing overboard. I’m thirsty; drinking is too hard. I need to be fully immersed. I need to drown.
What the appeal of a horse gone lame?
A dick gone limp?
Sometimes I muse what life would’ve been like if I had not been born with wasps in my womb and a cockroach in my cunt.
What if my mother puked up my mewling pink fetus with the rest of the remains of her esophogus?
If, when my father fingered my immature labia, he had just thrown me down and finished the job?
Precious. Fucking precious.
If I had not a sense of humor, maybe I could’ve cut to the chase long ago. But with my slit smile, I had to drag out the delivery, still bracing for the punch line.
It is a myth that each man has his forte; you could take a chainsaw to my torso and find not one piece of talent inside, except maybe that for sadness.
I hate it. I hate it more than words could capture. I crave to leave my bleached bones in the sun until there is nothing left to critisize; just pure white, blank canvas.
I haven’t the willpower to starve, nor the courage to finally pull a trigger.
Instead, I have the godawful ambition to float around in this cesspool, waiting for my self to evolve. Just waiting, so patiently.
I hate patience. The same patience that has let me ride this perspiring beast of life with one hand half-heartedly holding the reins.
It’s not her fault he bucked and neighed and threw her off.
She was holding the reins the whole time.
My heart is still.
Waiting purposefully for for when my shaking thumb slips.

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Made in the U.S.A

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Allegations cloud the atmosphere
You work to live, you live to work
I’ve worked hard.

My hair is soaked in peroxide
painted in bleach
The pale gold wash
Of Iowa fields of wheat
Thrushed in perspiration

My eyes are hastily rimmed
in common kohl
Mined from the mountains
In Georgia mornings of old
Appalachian Cleopatra

My skin is heavily powdered
Like the cocaine
That built Los Angeles
With blood and pain
Capitalism in motion

My gaze was once pure blue
Clear Nebraska skies
Now clouded in shadow
Like the smoke Detroit cries
We’re leaking pollution

My hips are sturdy and thick
Iron in blood and will
Like industrial frame
Our structures stand still
Artificial ingenuity

My breasts are generous
Like Thanksgiving day
Exaggerated and fattened
By pilgrims’ buffet
Gluttony drives commerce

My lips stained ruby
Like Indian blood
Spilled to color our flag
A taboo unheard of
Secrets wave in the wind

Concentration camps and ghettos
Muddle my veins
Revolution lays in wait
As the bile in my gut

My eyes are blue murder
My lips are red violence
My skin is icy white indifference
I am Patriotism

My form is man-made
Chiseled and adorned
By the NY stock exchange
The bible, sugar and porn
I worked hard

Harder than you ever will

I am fake
I am Saint Pamela Lee
Madonna on the rocks
Sweet Marilyn Magdalene
I am proud
I am American

Making Love to Roy G. Biv on a Sunday Night

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Red is the color on my tiny tapered fingertips, on my small soft lips.  It’s the color of my wild mane, of my ferocious beating heart.  It is the color of the sheets I poured myself on in a momentary lapse of judgment.  It is the color of the blood that was spilt.

From the pale cherry on my tongue to the faded ink of your old tattoo and the crimson sunrise painted behind it, we were red.  It stained the crystalline glass of Chianti that never got finished.  Its wax flowed from the candle we forgot to blow out.  And it danced in the flames of passion we kindled like a wildfire.

As I stared at your tanned sienna skin, I remembered the scorched earth policy that your ancestors devastated my ancestors with.  There, against the drifts of bloodshot snow, danced grand ruby sleeves of violence, smoke rising to the starry sky.

***

Orange was the color of my mother’s thick curly hair, which I stared at constantly.  I longed to bury myself in it and never return.  Images of her private and quiet pain flashed before my eyes as we watched the sunset on the jagged rocks at Plum Island.  Our words were terse and insignificant, but I saw a deep sadness in the corners of her thin compressed mouth.  It’s easy to take for granted the brilliance of the Atlantic coast when the image is as familiar as my unimportant palms.  Tangerine reflections lingered on the waves that undulated with the ease of a Sunday morning, bouncing off my shimmering blue eyes.

***

Yellow is the feeling I hold in the back of throat, in the pit of my stomach.  My teeth are the coffee stained dyke holding it back, keeping me from confessing years and years of staring into the sea waiting for your return.  It pins down my rangy need to scream for you, to cruse and throw fire at you for all the pain you’ve brought into our lives.   It is the color I will see behind your turquoise eyes when your liver inevitably fails, bloated by years of antagonism burst open by hostility.

***

Green was the color of the grass stains on my knees and elbows when I tumbled down the emerald hills in my hometown.  It was the color of the money we burned through like an old match.  Greener and greener were the leaves we hid behind, smoking weed through a kaleidoscope pipe.

Green was the color of your boyish eyes, charming in their ignorance.

Green was how you felt when I spurned your advances for another, leaving you alone amongst leaves of poison ivy.  I tried to say sorry, but you had moved far away to brilliant jade hills my bare white skin had never touched.

***

Blue was my mind and my heart, not least of all my deep-set eyes.  I rimmed them over and over in kohl until I felt hidden, like some clever raccoon.  I slept and screamed for years, frozen as glacier creeping forward only inches a year.  Late at night under the guise of the navy sky was when I felt the bluest, fantasizing about arctic wastelands I could wander until collapse.  My shadow was blue, too, when it covered me like a security blanket and refused to let go.

Within the cavernous folds of lethargy, I had learned that our blood is only red when it makes contact with the air.  All your blood is blue.  All my blood is blue.  It made sense that we suffocate.

***

Indigo were those crafty little pills I cut up with the eagerness of a kid on Christmas.  I was still a child, stuck in a stranger’s body of foreign curves.  The deep cobalt stained the inside of my nose and the grey ripples of my cognitive process.  Even though my clamoring skeleton shook constantly, I seldom noticed tears welling up in the corners of my permanent stare.  This triumph spurned me to embark on a yearlong high.

As I lied on my bedroom floor naked as the windows, I felt a high creep over me like a thousand hungry spiders.

***

In my soft hand I held a violet, torn from its home on a stranger’s lawn in downtown Newburyport.  I myself am away from home, and look at my past self like a sad stranger I once knew.

This violent was taken from its past life as an ornament, but I see deep in its purple wrinkles a will to live.  A swell of selfishness blossomed in my chest as I held it tightly in my small fist.

I stared at my tattered grey boots as I followed the rambling brick road.  Like an old t-shirt laundered one too many times, the dreams of my past seemed faded and worn.  Gazing into the sky I spied a hint of rainclouds advancing closer.  My eyes met with the deep black irises of a boy from the boardwalk, with his sienna skin and dark eyes.

I dropped the violet at his feet as the first rain drops tickled my neck like a stranger breathing down my collar.  He shook his head of black and grey hair and picked it up. A laugh came from behind his crooked teeth.

Maybe we’ll see a rainbow, he said.  We smiled in sync.

Aside

Four Way Braid

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DON’T FUCKING MOVE.
Keep still, look down at yourself, keep quiet, and don’t fucking scream. The worst thing you could do is scream.

Not

I’m not a toy. You can’t throw me aside when you’re done.
I am not a daffodil. You can’t cut me and throw in a vase with my sisters, admiring our slow death.
I’m not a statistic. I am a human being, crying and perspiring like the rest of us.
I’m not a joke. I used to say life was joke and suicide was just a punch line. I said a lot of stupid things.
I am not an optimist.

[42% of rape survivors told no one about the rape.]

This is going to hurt, no lie. We’re not bullshitting you here, this is the real deal. It’s a needle beneath your skin, vibrating like a sadistic sex toy.
The tall girl with blue eyes told the artist calmly what she wanted.
He agreed eagerly and tried not to stare at her extravagant chest.
She’s a piece of meat. It’s worth noting she’s a vegetarian.
Nonetheless, she thought he was cute, almost the way a puppy is after you smack it on the nose.

All

I am a victim. I am disabled. I am rendered helpless. I am a sad story, a lost cause. I am something that could have been great. I’m told I am all of these things.
I am a survivor. I am a fighter. I am a fire hearted bitch. I know I am all of these things.
I am a cunt. Does that word make you flinch?

[30% of rape survivors contemplate suicide after the rape.]

Oh! She’s a bleeder! They said. It’s everywhere.
She didn’t flinch. She didn’t even respond.
The artist rarely saw women get squeamish at the sight of blood, mostly men.
Doctors might blame it on endorphins.
Sometimes the girl got piercings, just to see how tough she really was.

Who

Who am I? I forgot again. Please, label me, this is so uncomfortable! How dare you exist without being packaged into these neat little categories?
I have wide hips and strong thighs that can deliver a roundhouse kick known to shatter teeth. Okay, okay. You’re some sort of butch Amazon wonder dyke.
I have large pale blue doll-like eyes. It doesn’t get much cuter than having them stare up at you from down on my knees. You’re just a baby, huh? You’re innocent and helpless. You can’t do it on your own, honey.
I have ridiculous breasts. I didn’t ask for them, I didn’t ask for it. What are those, F cups? Wow. You dumb slut. You should be ashamed.
I am a feminist and no one has once supported this. I believe in the power of language and the strength in song. I am a poet.

[More than any other profession, female poets are most likely to die young and commit suicide.]

Surprise, this is pleasurable. The artist concludes that the buxom blonde woman is a masochist. You learn something new every day. It’s starting to carve away down her pale shoulder, bleeding all the way. The endorphins work. She closed her eyes and saw herself.
She closed her eyes and saw God.
Everything you know about God is wrong. As it stands, this bitch is high as a kite on the ides of March.

Wander

I have been starving for salvation. I am screaming for a voice. I am looking for a reason to live.
Currently, I don’t know where I am.

[Studies conclude that 43 percent (43%) of the children who are abused are abused by family members, 33 percent (33%) are abused by someone they know, and the remaining 24 percent (24%) are sexually abused by strangers.]

You’re almost done. We’re getting close. It’s gonna hurt, sweetheart.
She’s smiling this crooked smile and he could’ve sworn he saw the devil in her blue eyes. It didn’t hurt a bit.

Are

Who are we? Sometimes I believe in the divinity of human beings. I am secular but sure we are special. Other times I realize we’re a pack of apes throwing shit at each other.
Everybody wants to be in control, even these dumb gorillas getting drunk off power.

[For these power rapists, rape becomes a way to compensate for their underlying feelings of inadequacy and feeds their issues of mastery, control, strength, authority and capability. The intent of the power rapist is to assert their competency. The power rapist relies upon verbal threats, intimidation with a weapon, and only uses the amount of force necessary to subdue his victim.]

It’s over. The artist is proud of his work and bewildered by the girl.
She looks disappointed as the needle stops humming.
There’s a mess of scarlet and white over her back, which is suspiciously muscular. She uses a small shaking hand to wipe off the blood. There’s black ink stretching across her shoulder.
This once, she sees her body and feels she owns it.
She feels beautiful.
Fuck you, she is beautiful.

Lost

I am on a precarious ledge of flourish and fantasy. I can withdraw, I can escape, and I can repress my every little memory into an ache at the back of my head. Did I mention I have a migraine?
I can cry every single night if I want.
I can lie back and take it.
Or I can kick you in the fucking teeth.

[Not All Who Wander Are Lost]

From femininity, with love

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You made me realize

Nothing’s more glamorous than suicide

And the sirens

Sing out in tendency

As withering turns to dependency

 

You should abort this

Like a prenatal sepulchre conceived amiss

Nurse your wounds

It all heals in time

While the serpents eye the blind

 

It’s not the first time

Obsession and a Pisces met

It’s easy to bleed

But not to forget

 

Beautiful!

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I don’t know when I wrote this, but I kind of sort of liked it and rethought my previous stance on exclamation points.

She moved her legs like finely tuned instruments, dancing methodically with an air of listlessness about her. One, two, three, and four…one, two, three, and four…her toes pointed and her ankles ached, but in those moments of pain she felt most beautiful.

He watched her. One, two, three and four…Her calves were smooth and strong, her thighs slim and youthful. To him, her neck evoked a swan and her eyes a soft, ethereal girl who spent her days riding horses. In truth, she had never been on a horse, though he longed to watched her bounce up and down with such an unearthly grace and see her chestnut hair get tossed in the wind. Time had bestowed upon her the reassuring gaze of a seasoned mother, but her skin remained virginal and smooth. She was the perfect woman to him.

Her body stopped moving and instead placed itself gently on the ground. In his mind, he imagined himself unwinding her and then lovingly putting his porcelain doll down, as to not tarnish such a valuable play thing. How he wished for her to be his plaything! Few things in life would be more thrilling than if she could look into his face with her maternal expression and angelic lips parted ever so slightly.

“Can you help me with my laces?”

The words were a sweet, seductive music that rang through his ears. Of course he would. Following procedure, he walked over unassumingly and took great care in gently unlacing her ballet slippers. His heart fluttered as he adolescent hand brushed her soft legs, lined with fine white hair. Beautiful! Ravishingly beautiful….one, two, three and four. Bouts of passion quaked in his chest, his breathing began to stutter, and out the window he saw a pastel butterfly color the view. Beautiful! This was a both a woman and a girl, a mother and a child, a lover and a sister. She would never look at him with anything other than mild disinterest and familiarity. But day by day, he watched her as one would watch a princess in a tower. He longed for her like a peasant who looked into her window. She was so distant. Beautiful!

“Why are you shaking?”

He was. He was trembling in awe of her beauty, of all that was in this porcelain doll of a woman. No, a girl. A sister! A lover. He longed, and longed and longed for her.

“Is something wrong?”

An eyebrow raised, ethereal blue eyes staring him dead in the face. He looked down at tiny, pink feet that should have been bloodied from her dancing, yet remained perfect. Smooth arches, virginal skin. His trembling grew more dire. He loved her so, he wanted to be crushed by her gentle pastel beauty. Yes, she could dance upon him until he was buried beneath the earth that forbade him. Beautiful! She could puncture his heart with a small, slippered foot, en pointe. It would all be worth it, for a glance at that soft pink flower that hid between her legs, one he had probably glimpsed in childhood, before she was so beautiful. Beautiful! He couldn’t take it much longer. He wanted to see her dance for him, to lay down before him, a blank canvas of white skin. He wanted to drink the calm blue ocean of her eyes. Beautiful! Forbidden! Beautiful! Impossible!

She pulled away in shock, disgust, and mild amusement from his quivering wet lips. She shook her head and walked away. As she walked, she danced freely, and to herself. One, two, three, and four…

Urban Decay

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Money doesn’t talk, it screams
At the sight of bloodshed on the boulevard of broken dreams
Between the cracked skulls and blackened hulls
Shipping in China White and cocaine
As the needles of poison, acid rain
Act like acupuncture and open up the city’s veins
The streets spill out sludge and blood
And loss and love

And may the planes fly low tonight
And may their aim be just right
Because when they shoot me, Lord
I won’t put up a fight

Good, Catholic girls in 5 inch stilletto heels
Won’t say how much it hurts but will tell you how it feels
To be laced up and chained down
Dolled up and tossed around
So elegant, they never make a sound
That cold, tombstone silence stands profound
As we barter them off for a cheap high
Pound for pound

Safe to say I’ll hide in plain sight
And pray the judge takes pity on my plight
Because when they find me, Lord
I won’t put up a fight

The devil wears snakeskin boots and smokes menthols on 5th avenue
At the end of his barrel wait the brave and the few
Who tasted triumph and stayed true
You were in high school when he made his bones
Now he sits by the window and drinks alone
The tattooed woman is God, the bartender
Who is recovering from their latest bender
She has a boyish haircut but a womanly figure
With a rosary around her neck
And a finger on the trigger

I hope when I die, I’m high as a kite
And they execute me in broad daylight
Because when it comes down, Lord
I won’t put up a fight

Years

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It’s been a long time. I’ve seen many things. I’ve felt many more.

My years are long, my breaths are numbered, and people seem to pass me by without a second thought. I cannot do many things by myself; I’ve lost control of most of my body and walking now sends painful shots of electricity up and down my legs. The slightest movement awakens a vengeful mess of teeth and hands that clenches my spine and rattles it awake. Whenever I try to lift myself up, I’m greeted with fire in my joints and shortness of breath.

I’ve seen almost a century go by. When I was born, the world was lit by candle light and our passions controlled. Ninety-three years! All of them seem so painfully long ago. I can no longer keep up, for now the world has forsaken candlelight and is lit by lightening. Feelings are let loose like stray bullets in a sprawling concrete jungle. Once upon a time, people didn’t have to scream like that. There was no need for desperate screeching and pleading. Now all I hear is cries for help.

Many of my peers gave themselves away to a tempting mistress of normality. Those still alive have distracted themselves with crocheting, knitting, cats, the Good Lord. I cannot count myself among their ranks. After my husband died, I was met with pressure to find God and stop dwelling on the past. The fiery Irish spirit of independence in me prevented that from happening.

Others may have been able to take their tragedies and put them in neat little boxes of mourning with pretty bows of distraction. I could not be so thoughtless. It wasn’t in me. Once James died, I unwrapped the widow’s Pandora’s box and showed myself a world of self-doubt and confusion.

My smoker’s cough rang out like the bells of Notre Dame.

Before I had only dipped my feet in the water of denial. I was now completely submerged. It wasn’t long before I suspected I’d drown. The waves crashed in every day now.

I was walking home from the doctor’s office today. I had gone in for a check-up at the insistence of my daughter, a slim-fingered high-strung deviation who reflected modern society far better than I. Part of me was convinced she did not care about my health and that she had read about lung cancer in some modern woman’s magazine and figured it would be nifty to check on. She offered me a ride in some huge crazed machine of an automobile, but only if she could do so on her schedule. The false jabs at caring almost offended me, until I thought of how I regarded my own mother at her age. In my youth, I could barely stand the woman who pressed herself so closely to me I suspected I’d suffocate. Once she gave me space to breathe after I married, I grew fonder of her in my own way. People had told me I would better get along with my mother at that age, and so, I did. I tried hard to appreciate her despite her leering, judgmental ways. She was old. It wasn’t her fault. By the time I was 59, as my daughter was now, I was burnt out on loving her. I wanted to quickly place her in a nursing home and visit her only on holidays. The problem with my own mother is that she never lost her wits enough to ignore the times I ignored her.

And so I walked alone, with my knees aching and my lungs working far too hard. The doctor was a man blessed with a cute face and a pleasant bedside manner. I used all the strength I could to smile at him, even when he broke the news. Why would I go through chemo? Why would I spend the funding of my children and grandchildren? Soaking up the state’s donations I received only because I was elderly?

I was far too proud for any of this.

The steady rhythm of the solid cane I used to prop myself up was crashing in my brain like waves licking a shore. My head hurt. Of course it did.

I walked for almost a mile until I hit the city park. The sidewalks were oddly welcoming and the street lights accepted me. My appointment was at four, and on an empty October night the sun had gone down by five. A nice young man regarded me with pity and a smile, but continued walking. A pretty girl looked my way and waved excitedly. I assume she worked in the service industry; she had that fake smile it so often employed.

Did she know I was beautiful once? Did she know that I too had a winning smile, before all my teeth had rotted out of my head and they filled my mouth with dentures? My smile would have been fake, too, if I had a complimentary grin to give her. My nerves were shaking like crazy. I couldn’t hold still. My joints burned.

Never in my life had I held still, except for the torturous moment I held my breath as my husband passed away. He was given a drawn out and painful expiration after a heart attack, slipping away in the hospital. I missed him, but no one seemed to understand. They failed to grasp that I, too, could feel love at my age. I was with the man for decades, and they act like because I’m old I have no passion?

Youth was so audacious sometimes. The unmitigated gall they had. To give me life insurance money, to cash out the man I had built a family with, and act like I should be grateful. I wanted nothing to do with life insurance. I simply wanted a hand to hold.

My daughter wouldn’t care, I knew. She would give a few words of condolence and let me be on my own. She’d rue how independent I was and complain to her own children, who were bored to death of hearing about it.

I can’t say I was much better at that age. At least I still had James then.

My body was screaming. With the fire in my bones and the electricity in my nerves, I took myself to a bench and closed my eyes. The moon was out, and it caught my attention. I never believed in heaven. I believed in life being a quick, bold, son of a bitch.

A boy approached me as I rested my bones. He looked confused, but concerned. His eyes were kind but alert in the way that young men often were.

“Excuse me, miss?” he said with more confidence than I expected.

“You’re excused,” I quipped, trying hard to smile. I didn’t have the strength.

“Do you need help? It’s getting late,” he looked deeply into my eyes. He reminded me of my husband. Most things did, but this was special. His hands had the same nervous twitch as James’s, and he had the beginning of laugh-lines that brought to mind my husband’s musical sense of humor.

I had the courage to ask. I was old. There was nothing to lose. “Could you sit here with me, young man? It all…hurts.”

“Sure, ma’am,” he said as he placed himself next to me on the bench. “What’s wrong? What hurts?”

I suspected there was a girl he was trying to impress. I looked off to the distance to see any hint of one. None. Not many where out at this hour.

“I’m very, very old,” I replied candidly. “I hope that answers some of your question. I just got back from the doctor..”

“Do you need me to walk you home?” He grew more confused by the minute.

I looked at him. Smiles were painful. I slowly reached in my purse and fiddled around, looking for a pill case. When I found it, I looked away from him. The pill was small and white, unobtrusive but potent. I placed it under my tongue and let it slowly dissolve. The bitter alkaline taste bit back. I didn’t mind.

“I-I do have a request, young man,” I continued looking the other way. “Could you just please hold my hand? I’m just so unsteady, and so….old…”

He seemed sympathetic, and focused his kind eyes on me. “Um…sure, miss, I guess so…”

In that moment, I closed my eyes. I felt the cool breeze lap against my old leather skin. He held my tired, shaking hand in his strong youthful grasp. He was hesitant, but I didn’t mind. It was in that time I was transported back to the moment I held James’s hand before he passed.

I was drowning in denial. Stage four. Stage four lung cancer.

My eyes closed still, I saw my husband and I felt his hand holding mine. I heard him laugh. The pill dissolved beneath my tongue.

A smile finally came across my face, and this time is was completely painless.