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SEXTON, Anne


With Mercy for the Greedy

For my friend, Ruth, who urges me to make an appointment for the Sacrament of Confession


Concerning your letter in which you ask

me to call a priest and in which you ask

me to wear The Cross that you enclose;

your own cross,

your dog-bitten cross,

no larger than a thumb,

small and wooden, no thorns, this rose—


I pray to its shadow,

that gray place

where it lies on your letter ... deep, deep.

I detest my sins and I try to believe

in The Cross. I touch its tender hips, its dark jawed face,


its solid neck, its brown sleep.
True. There is

a beautiful Jesus.

He is frozen to his bones like a chunk of beef.

How desperately he wanted to pull his arms in!

How desperately I touch his vertical and horizontal axes!

But I can’t. Need is not quite belief.


All morning long

I have worn

your cross, hung with package string around my throat.

It tapped me lightly as a child’s heart might,

tapping secondhand, softly waiting to be born.

Ruth, I cherish the letter you wrote.


My friend, my friend, I was born

doing reference work in sin, and born

confessing it. This is what poems are:

with mercy

for the greedy,

they are the tongue’s wrangle,

the world's pottage, the rat's star.


The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator


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.


Her Kind


I have gone out, a possessed witch,

haunting the black air, braver at night;

dreaming evil, I have done my hitch

over the plain houses, light by light:

lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.

A woman like that is not a woman, quite.

I have been her kind.


I have found the warm caves in the woods,

filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,

closets, silks, innumerable goods;

fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:

whining, rearranging the disaligned.

A woman like that is misunderstood.

I have been her kind.


I have ridden in your cart, driver,

waved my nude arms at villages going by,

learning the last bright routes, survivor

where your flames still bite my thigh

and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.

A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

I have been her kind.


Consorting With Angels


I was tired of being a woman,

tired of the spoons and the post,

tired of my mouth and my breasts,

tired of the cosmetics and the silks.

There were still men who sat at my table,

circled around the bowl I offered up.

The bowl was filled with purple grapes

and the flies hovered in for the scent

and even my father came with his white bone.

But I was tired of the gender things.


Last night I had a dream

and I said to it...

'You are the answer.

You will outlive my husband and my father.'

In that dream there was a city made of chains

where Joan was put to death in man's clothes

and the nature of the angels went unexplained,

no two made in the same species,

one with a nose, one with an ear in its hand,

one chewing a star and recording its orbit,

each one like a poem obeying itself,

performing God's functions,

a people apart.


'You are the answer, '

I said, and entered,

lying down on the gates of the city.

Then the chains were fastened around me

and I lost my common gender and my final aspect.

Adam was on the left of me

and Eve was on the right of me,

both thoroughly inconsistent with the world of reason.

We wove our arms together

and rode under the sun.

I was not a woman anymore,

not one thing or the other.


O daughters of Jerusalem,

the king has brought me into his chamber.

I am black and I am beautiful.

I've been opened and undressed.

I have no arms or legs.

I'm all one skin like a fish.

I'm no more a woman

than Christ was a man.



For My Lover, Returning To His Wife


She is all there.

She was melted carefully down for you

and cast up from your childhood,

cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.

She has always been there, my darling.

She is, in fact, exquisite.

Fireworks in the dull middle of February

and as real as a cast-iron pot.

Let's face it, I have been momentary.

A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.

My hair rising like smoke from the car window.

Littleneck clams out of season.

She is more than that. She is your have to have,

has grown you your practical your tropical growth.

This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.

She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,

has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,

sat by the potter's wheel at midday,

set forth three children under the moon,

three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,

done this with her legs spread out

in the terrible months in the chapel.

If you glance up, the children are there

like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.

She has also carried each one down the hall

after supper, their heads privately bent,

two legs protesting, person to person,

her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.

I give you back your heart.

I give you permission -

for the fuse inside her, throbbing

angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her

and the burying of her wound -

for the burying of her small red wound alive -

for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,

for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,

for the mother's knee, for the stocking,

for the garter belt, for the call -

the curious call

when you will burrow in arms and breasts

and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair

and answer the call, the curious call.

She is so naked and singular

She is the sum of yourself and your dream.

Climb her like a monument, step after step.

She is solid.

As for me, I am a watercolor.

I wash off.


Aan mijn minnaar die terugkeert naar zijn vrouw


Ze is er helemaal.

Ze was voorzichtig voor jou gesmolten

en aangespoeld uit je jeugd,

aangespoeld uit je honderd favoriete studentes.
Ze is er altijd geweest, liefste.

In feite is ze verrukkelijk.

Vuurwerk in het saaie half-februari

en zo echt als een gietijzeren pot.

Laten we eerlijk zijn: ik was maar tijdelijk.

Een luxe. Een heldere rode sloep in de haven.

Mijn haar wuift als rook uit het autoraam.

Venusschelpjes buiten seizoen.

Zij is meer dan dat. Zij is wie je hebben moet,

ze heeft je praktische je tropische groei ontwikkeld.

Dit is geen experiment. Ze is één en al harmonie.

Ze let op roeiriemen en dollen van het bootje,

heeft wilde bloemen bij het raam gezet bij ‘t ontbijt,

zat bij het pottenbakkerswiel ‘s middags,

heeft drie kinderen voortgebracht in dit ondermaanse,

drie engeltjes getekend door Michelangelo,

dit alles gedaan met haar benen wijd open

tijdens de vreselijke maanden in de Kapel (1).

Als je je ogen omhoog slaat, zijn de kinderen daar

als tere ballonnen rustend aan het plafond.

Ze heeft ook elk van hen door de hal gedragen

na het avondmaal, hun hoofden intiem gebogen,
twee protesterende benen, mens tot mens,

haar gezicht uitgelaten van het zingen en hun kleine slaap.
Ik geef je je hart terug.
Ik geef je de toestemming -

om in haar te gaan, kwaad

bonkend in het vuil, om de teef in haar

en het begraven van haar wonde -

om het levend begraven van haar kleine rode wonde -

om het bleke, flikkerende licht onder haar ribben,

om de dronken zeeman die wacht in haar linker polsslag,

om de moedersknie, om de kous,

om de jarretelle, om de roep -
de vreemde roep

als je je zal nestelen in borsten en armen

en rukt aan het oranje lint in heur haar

en de roep beantwoordt, de vreemde roep.
Ze is zo naakt en bijzonder

Ze is de som van jezelf en je droom.

Bestijg haar als een monument, stap voor stap.

Ze is sterk.

Wat mezelf betreft, ik ben waterverf.

Ik ben afwasbaar (2).


(1) verwijzing naar de Sixtijnse Kapel

(2) verwijzing naar de Bijbel : « zijn zonden afwassen »

Vertaling : Lea VAN GIJZEGHEM & Zaj DE MEESTER




The Expatriates


My dear, it was a moment

to clutch at for a moment

so that you may believe in it

and believing is the act of love, I think,

even in the telling, wherever it went.


In the false New England forest

where the misplanted Norwegian trees

refused to root, their thick synthetic

roots barging out of the dirt to work on the air,

we held hands and walked on our knees.

Actually, there was no one there.


For forty years this experimental

woodland grew, shaft by shaft in perfect rows

where its stub branches held and its spokes fell.

It was a place of parallel trees, their lives

filed out in exile where we walked too alien to know

our sameness and how our sameness survives.


Outside of us the village cars followed

the white line we had carefully walked

two nights before toward our single beds.

We lay halfway up an ugly hill and if we fell

it was here in the woods where the woods were caught

in their dying and you held me well.


And now I must dream the forest whole

and your sweet hands, not once as frozen

as those stopped trees, nor ruled, nor pale,

nor leaving mine. Today, in my house, I see

our house, its pillars a dim basement of men

holding up their foreign ground for you and me.


My dear, it was a time,

butchered from time

that we must tell of quickly

before we lose the sound of our own

mouths calling mine, mine, mine.


The Truth the Dead Know


For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959

and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959


Gone, I say and walk from church,

refusing the stiff procession to the grave,

letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.

It is June. I am tired of being brave.


We drive to the Cape. I cultivate

myself where the sun gutters from the sky,

where the sea swings in like an iron gate

and we touch. In another country people die.


My darling, the wind falls in like stones

from the whitehearted water and when we touch

we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.

Men kill for this, or for as much.


The Abortion


Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

Just as the earth puckered its mouth,
each bud puffing out from its knot,
I changed my shoes, and then drove south.

Up past the Blue Mountains, where
Pennsylvania humps on endlessly,
wearing, like a crayoned cat, its green hair,

its roads sunken in like a gray washboard;
where, in truth, the ground cracks evilly,
a dark socket from which the coal has poured,

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

the grass as bristly and stout as chives,
and me wondering when the ground would break,
and me wondering how anything fragile survives;

up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man,
not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all…
he took the fullness that love began.

Returning north, even the sky grew thin
like a high window looking nowhere.
The road was as flat as a sheet of tin.

Somebody who should have been born
is gone.

Yes, woman, such logic will lead
to loss without death. Or say what you meant,
you coward…this baby that I bleed.