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Anne Sexton again

December 23, 2011

Read this lonely, angry poem before you read the title


Anne Sexton wrote this after breaking up with an even better poet, James Wright. A passionate correspondence, initially poetic, later erotic, had led to a short intense affair. Sexton wrote Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound about it; Wright A Blessing during it. The latter is one of my favourite poems.

Sexton was angry and frustrated when the relationship ended and wanted to shock her readers with an intentionally crude and explicit title. She put some otherwise sympathetic readers off. So here it is without the title; you’ll soon get what it’s about.

The end of the affair is always death.
She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,
out of the tribe of myself my breath
finds you gone. I horrify
those who stand by. I am fed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

Finger to finger, now she’s mine.
She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.
I beat her like a bell. I recline
in the bower where you used to mount her.
You borrowed me on the flowered spread.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

Take for instance this night, my love,
that every single couple puts together
with a joint overturning, beneath, above,
the abundant two on sponge and feather,
kneeling and pushing, head to head.
At night alone, I marry the bed.

I break out of my body this way,
an annoying miracle. Could I
put the dream market on display?
I am spread out. I crucify.
My little plum is what you said.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

Then my black-eyed rival came.
The lady of water, rising on the beach,
a piano at her fingertips, shame
on her lips and a flute’s speech.
And I was the knock-kneed broom instead.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

She took you the way a woman takes
a bargain dress off the rack
and I broke the way a stone breaks.
I give back your books and fishing tack.
Today’s paper says that you are wed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

The boys and girls are one tonight.
They unbutton blouses. They unzip flies.
They take off shoes. They turn off the light.
The glimmering creatures are full of lies.
They are eating each other. They are overfed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

Confessional poetry – Sexton was an incredibly sexual woman, who gave everything to each man she loved, and was unafraid to bare her emotions, even the desperation when someone else had taken him away.

And the title? The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator. Not so shocking. Maybe I needn’t have kept it from you.

Jim Thornton

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2013 6:09 pm

    very disturbing and difficult to understand. but i feel the last two paras


  1. A Blessing |

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