anne sexton – a story for rose on the midnight flight to boston

annesextonUntil tonight they were separate specialties, different stories, the best of their own worst.

Riding my warm cabin home, I remember Betsy’s laughter; she laughed as you did, Rose, at the first story. Someday, I promised her, I’ll be someone going somewhere, and we plotted it in the humdrum school for proper girls. The next April the plane bucked me like a horse, my elevators turned and fear blew down my throat, that last profane gauge of a stomach coming up. And then returned to land, as unlovely as any seasick sailor, sincerely eighteen; my first story, my funny failure.

Maybe, Rose, there is always another story, better unsaid, grim or flat or predatory.

Half a mile down the lights of the in-between cities turn up their eyes at me. And I remember Betsy’s story, the April night of the civilian air crash and her sudden name misspelled in the evening paper, the interior of shock and the paper gone in the trash ten years now. She used the return ticket I gave her.

This was the rude kill of her; two planes cracking in mid-air over Washington, like blind birds. And the picking up afterwards, the morticians tracking bodies in the Potomac and piecing them like boards to make a leg or a face. There is only her miniature photograph left, too long now for fear to remember. Special tonight because I made her into a story that I grew to know and savor. A reason to worry, Rose, when you fix an old death like that, and outliving the impact, to find you’ve pretended.

We bank over Boston. I am safe. I put on my hat. I am almost someone going home. The story has ended.

cinderella by anne sexton

You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.

Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son’s heart.
from diapers to Dior.
That story.

Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.

Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
That story.

Once
the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mother’s grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.

Next came the ball, as you all know.
It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife.
All but Cinderella were preparing
and gussying up for the event.
Cinderella begged to go too.
Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
into the cinders and said: Pick them
up in an hour and you shall go.
The white dove brought all his friends;
all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
you have no clothes and cannot dance.
That’s the way with stepmothers.

Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the prince’s ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went. Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didn’t
recognize her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.

As nightfall came she thought she’d better
get home. The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobbler’s wax
and Cinderella’s gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don’t heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.

At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story.

the transformations of anne sexton, poststructuralist witch

Jeremy DeVito, 2011

“The world of the fairy tale has been traditionally read as one in which anything may happen, in which all things work toward and will eventually culminate in, the ‘perfect’ fairy tale ending of ‘happily ever after.’ However, the last half-century (with the rise of literary theory in general and feminist theory in particular) has produced a degree of cynicism towards this traditional reading. Fairy tale ideology has been challenged on the grounds that it is classist, racist, and, most blatantly, sexist. Hence, such tales have found new storytellers and have been adapted in such a way as to subvert the problematic ideals of tradition and, in most cases, replace them with what is seen as a fresher, more inclusive set of values. In 1972 Anne Sexton published Transformations, a collection of poetic retellings of seventeen widely recognizable fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, which, in the eyes of such critics as Carol Leventen, “belongs to [this] significant body of revisionist / feminist work” (137). Although these retellings doreflect a new (and distinctly female) voice, however, Sexton’s critique contains complexities that go beyond a feminist objection to patriarchal concepts of perfection and happiness. Rather, Sexton’s tales suggest that the real problem with the fairy tale is to be found in its very striving towards the non-problematic; in short, Sexton’s poems are not so much feminist re-writings as they are poststructuralist re-readings. Their aim is not to adapt the traditional in providing or implying a new (feminist) central philosophy, but rather, to strip the tales of any centre whatsoever… ”

Read the rest of DeVito´s text here

the fury of god´s goodbye by anne sexton

One day He
tipped His top hat
and walked
out of the room,
ending the argument.
He stomped off
saying:
I don’t give guarantees.
I was left
quite alone
using up the darkness
I rolled up
my sweater,
up in a ball,
and took it
to bed with me,
a kind of stand-in
for God,
that washerwoman
who walks out
when you’re clean
but not ironed.
When I woke up
the sweater
had turned to
bricks of gold.
I’d won the world
but like a
forsaken explorer,
I’d lost
my map.

admonitions to a special person by anne sexton

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.