Anne SextonAnne Sexton had her first book of poetry, 'To Bedlam and Partway Back,' published in 1959, and won a fellowship to Radcliffe in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before she died in 1974, Anne would publish nine more volumes of poetry, write a play that was produced off-Broadway, and write four children's books. Anne would receive numerous honorary doctorates from a variety of prestigious universities, including Harvard, and have fun forming her own poetry-rock band, 'Anne Sexton and Her Kind.' In 1967, at perhaps the height of her career, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book 'Live or Die.'
I am your dwarf.
I am the enemy within.
I am the boss of your dreams.
No. I am not the law in your mind,
the grandfather of watchfulness.
I am the law of your members,
the kindred of blackness and impulse.
See. Your hand shakes.
It is not palsy or booze.
It is your Doppelganger
trying to get out.
Beware . . . Beware . . .
Anne Sexton's work and life has multiple relations to Twin Peaks:
With familiar Twin Peaks themes
Similarity to the Palmer dinner sceneAnne's father, Ralph, enforced a dress code; he never sat down at dinner without a jacket and tie, even his underwear was ironed. The children were expected to check their hems and adjust their clothes beforehand, using the full-length mirrors. Anne was chronically messy and often ended up having her meals with the maid, separate from her parents.
As a child, her family would spend summers at Squirrel Island. The Harveys remained prosperous during the years of the Depression, due to war economy profits. Success let Ralph stay at home more often. He began to drink heavily and his moods became ugly. His wife's sarcasm, his daughters' table manners or the sight of bad complexions could set him off on a tirage of derision. Ralph's drinking was episodic and unpredictable, when he was drunk the family avoided him, and afterward they forgave him; he could be so charming and attentive.
Similarity to the David Bowie scene
Anne remembered Nana calling her "horrible and disgusting" and once attacking her with a nail file. Electroshock therapy seemed to improve her condition, "she wasn't mad, she was suffering."
After Anne Sexton's own breakdown, she worried about ending up in a mental institution like Nana. More important, she believed that she had personally caused her great-aunt's breakdown, and that Nana, who condemned her as "not Anne" but a "horrible and disgusting" impostor, had sentenced her to break down as well. Anne's rage took root in Anne as a frightening symptom, which she described as a "tiny voice" in her head "shouting from far away," telling her she was awful, often taunting her to kill herself.
Jack, a boyfriend of Anne's from high school, recalled an event that disturbed him deeply. One evening when Anne and Jack were about fifteen years old (Nana had just been hospitalized for the first time,) they made a date to go tobogganing on a steep hill behind the Harveys' house. Jack was late. When he arrived, Anne wasn't there, but at the bottom of the hill he could make out, by moonlight, her motionless body in the snow. He ran down to her and found her unconscious, bleeding from her head. After he took her up to the house, he discovered that the blood was mercurochrome: she had been faking unconsciousness, dramatizing her own death.
Grandfather - Arthur Gray Staples - A.G.S. - editor and publisher
Grandmother - Jane Dingly Staples
Father - Ralph Churchill Harvey
Mother - Mary Gray Harvey
Sisters - Jane and Blanche
Anne's husband, Alfred Muller Sexton II was nicknamed Kayo, after a cartoon character from the comic strip Moon Mullins.
After the birth of Joy Sexton in August of 1955, Anne had "terrible spells of depression." She was later diagnosed with a postpartum depression. She later developed a morbid dread of being alone with her babies. It was first discrovered in March of 1956, near Easter, when Kayo was away on his first long business trip. Anne's parents had recently moved. Joy was about seven months old, and had croup. A neighbor sat with the children while Anne went to a party with the wife of one of Kayo's business associates. "I came home late and heard Joy choking, like a dog barking. She couldn't breathe! I ran in and turned on the shower [for steam], then spent the whole night in the bathroom with her, thinking she was going to die." Joy recovered, but Anne didn't recover from her fear. Whenever Kayo left for a trip she would stop eating and grow weepy, fearful and listless.
Increasingly, Anne became prone to episodes of blinding rage in which she would seize Linda and begin choking or slapping her. She felt she could not control these outbursts, and she began to be afraid that she would kill her children.
One night in mid-July, near the anniversary of Nana's death, her anxieties mounted to a crisis. Kayo had fallen asleep on the couch after supper and the children were in bed. Feeling absurdly alone and desperate, she resolved to kill herself. She looked through the diary of Nana and noted how similar Nana's handwriting was to her own. Anne was later found by Kayo sitting in the dark with sleeping pills in one hand and Nana's picture in the other.
Anne hadn't actually take the pills, yet her actions were significant. From then on, she described her suicide attempts as a means for getting back to "the place" where Nana was "I want to curl up and sigh, 'Don't leave me.'" Taking nightly sleeping pills became a ritual substitute for just such oblivion. This situation was serious enough to warrant hospitalization at the Westwood Lodge.
In November, the day before her 28th birthday, alone at home while Kayo was away on business, she swallowed an overdose of barbiturates-Nembutal, which ever after she called her "kill-me" pills. She was sent to Glenside, a grim institution for mental patients. Anne was one of the few patients at this hospital who did not receive electroshock therapy, which the staff doctors favored; instead, she was treated with psychotherapy.
Dr. Orne's most important role was to help Anne find ways to rechannel her impulses, to analyze the private meanings coded in significant gestures and inner states. For Anne, it was difficult to describe the profound inability to respond to her marked states of dissociation, which she called trances. To some extent, she was aware of what she was doing.
In April 1956, Mary Gray was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. Angrily, she attributed her problem to Anne's breakdown. "Fat arm" was a term of disgust Mary Gray connected to her mutilation by surgery. Anne would use that term in her poetry.
May 29, 1957 Anne attempts suicide again.
Mary Gray died two years after her surgery, Anne guiltily took a portable radio from her hospital room. Ever after, this radio and it successive incarnations were always playing while she worked at her desk or while she slept. Anne association with her mother and radios comes from a letter Mary had written to Anne after her 2nd suicide. We have always been a two-way radio, with perhaps one exception - Do you suppose subconsciously you feel - that if you don't please ME you are losing an anchor? I would not know - but I have a feeling that your love for me and my "sympatica" for you - could be licking you. [...] You-Anne-my sweet daughter find life unattractive - Sometimes I do,too - and cry and cry - all full of self-pity and utter misery - So I can understand how you feel - Yet you have something to give - a word - The word - a beautiful appreciation of what life-nature-and human relationship does-You are not anyone's baby-You are adult in your sense of decency-Granted-trees rot-plants die-we humans fail-but we are spirit-It may be BUM spirit-but it's something-Anne saved a poem by Mary Gray written after her operation. It echoes the feelings of helplessness expressed in her letter, again using the metaphor of damaged trees: "It matters not to me at all/ that trees can rise as well as fall/ because with you I am a frail/ expression of the will to fail."
In another poem titled "Misery," Mary Gray describes her emotions on watching Anne recover from the deathlike state of a drug overdose. Unlike her mother, Anne never wrote out poems by hand. Perhaps the typewriter effaced for her the visual associations of her own handwriting with Nana's diary.
Once Dr. Orne became Anne's psychiatrist she began reading books on psychiatry, "to find out what kind of patient to be." She read a number of books mentioned in therapy: Freud on the Oedipus complex, on the theory of the superego, and on "Creative Writers and Daydreaming"; Jung on the notion of the self conversing in favor of silence on the part of the analyst.
Anne referred casually and knowledgeably to concepts such as transference, resistance, defense, regression and acting out.
A DopplegangerA particularly dramatic development in Anne's case was the emergence during the summer and fall of 1957 of a flamboyantly naughty role she liked to play, called Elizabeth, and of a memory or fantasy narrated in trance, about an incestuous experience with her father. Early on in therapy, the Elizabeth persona made appearances while Anne was in a trance by scrawling messages in child-like handwriting across pages torn from a lined notebook. Anne told Dr. Orne how she had chosen the name. Leaving his office after an episode of writing in trance she, "Looked at the back of my watch (for some reason) and the initials E.H. were on it (she inherited it from Elizabeth Harvey, her father's mother.) So thought, 'I must be E. H.' To my truthful knowledge I had never been 'Elizabeth' before."
By September, "Elizabeth" appeared in some of the return addresses on envelopes. "Elizabeth" claimed she had to type in the dark so Anne wouldn't read it. One letter to Dr. Orne read, "Help me somehow, there must be something you can do about this except sit there like a blinking toad." Elizabeth goes on to explain that formerly, Anne "thought of me as a brother that died. She used to think about him all the time. There wasn't really any brother but she like to pretend about him. I'm not so different from her but I would tell you what she doesn't dare think. She acts her life away. I am part of her sometimes but she is not part of me. Nana knew I was not Anne."
Elizabeth wanted Dr. Orne to put Anne under hypnosis during therapy, so that she, Elizabeth, could speak openly: "If you give her time to get dissociated enough she will be willing ... I know a lot."
Without chemicals he points.When Dr. Orne wouldn't agree to hypnotize his patient, both Anne and Elizabeth began appealing for a session under sodium pentothal. Together "they" laboriously typed a letter, one line superimposed on another: "Only sometimes do I lie," says one; "it's me that wants pentothal," says the other.
IncestAt several points in her therapy, Anne made an association, while in trance, between the name Elizabeth and "a little bitch," the angry words her father once used when he was drunk and spanked her for some naughtiness. She also associated this phrase with a night, recalled several times in trance, when her father came into her bedroom and fondled her sexually.
In later sessions Anne questioned the status of this memory.
Similarity to Leland's attitute toward Laura's boyfriendsAfter this episode in therapy, Dr. Orne talked to Mary Gray about Ralph's behavior toward Anne. Mary Gray replied that he had often used nasty language with her when he was drunk. She remembered his saying as Anne left the house one evening on a date that she looked as if she were planning "to get laid." Anne remembered this too, but remembered his saying "fucked." She was seventeen at the time.
Abusive remarks are not the same as erotic fondling. Memory or fantasy, evidence lies in the vividness and frequency of her descriptions in trance. Her dissociative states that were so prominent a feature in her case, for her tendency to sexualize significant relationships. She fit a profile of a woman who has undergone sexual trauma.
However, the details of her reports of the scene varied a good deal, most significant in dating the episode in her life anywhere from age five or six to age twelve to thirteen and in the role attributed to Nana, which changed from guilty point of reference, to actual witness. Also significant is that she was reading and writing about incest, in a play with an incestuous episode as its central conflict. As Anne frequently commented, once she had put a memory into words, the words were what she remembered.
Dr. Orne did not believe the events happened but Lois Ames, a psychiatric social worker who treated incest survivors, did believe her.
Anne wrote several poems and a play, 'Mercy Street', with an incestuous passage. Many poems in the book Transformations are sequenced with the same message woven into the Grimm's fairy tales.
The narratives in trance during psychotherapy were not reports of actual events but explanatory fictions summoned by the power of transference to evoke sexual feelings and fantasies. Her father's visit to her bedroom communicated, at the very least, her awareness that her father paid aggressive attention to her sexually developing body when he was drunk, and that she associated his transgression with Mother's unavailability and with Nana's cuddling.
In Mercy Street, there are two mothers, one who has retreated and locked everyone out and one who is shocked into madness by the spectacle of the girl's exchange with her father. In Anne's story, it is Nana's horror at witnessing her role in the seduction that explains Anne's phobias and her self-loathing, for this episode shows Nana the sexiness that Anne has been feeling secretly-even while cuddling with Nana.
Elizabeth, "the little bitch," was being acted out in an affair she referred to as an exciting game. She developed a sexual relationship with a friend, Jerry, in her Adult Education class. Dr. Orne observed that Anne was close to developing multiple personality disorder, so he disengaged himself from acknowledging Elizabeth as a person distinct from Anne. Dr. Orne saw it as a fantasy not as a true separate personality. He saw a positive side that Anne expressed in charismatic leadership, sense of fun, capacity for pleasure and self-confidence. Dr. Orne told her, "The 'magic' you, 'Elizabeth,' is the one who involves people but you don't view it as you."
In poetry, Anne found a true and proper home for her powers of invention. Through "the talking cure," she came to understand that the symptoms of her mental illness were like metaphors, encoding meanings rich with personal history. In pursuit of such meanings during therapy sessions, she learned techniques of rapid association that later proved valuable in her poetry. Anne's experience with therapy instructed her in the laws of substitution and displacement, and in the cunning that underlay her physical symptoms and associations. She expressed the relation in metaphor that internalized the doctor as a function of the creative psyche. "It is the split self, it seems to me, that is the mad woman. When writing you make a new reality and become whole. It is like lying on the analyst's couch, reenacting a private terror, and the creative mind is the analyst's couch, reenacting a private terror, and the creative mind is the analyst who gives pattern and meaning to what the persona sees as only incoherent experience."
Wait Mister. Which way is home?
They turned the light out
and the dark is moving in the corner.
There are no sign posts in this room,
four ladies, over eighty,
in diapers every one of them.
La la la, Oh music swims back to me
and I can feel the tune they played
the night they left me
in this private institution on a hill.
Imagine it. A radio playing
and everyone here was crazy.
I liked it and danced in a circle.
Music pours over the sense
and in a funny way
music sees more that I.
I mean it remembers better;
remembers the first night here.
It was the strangled cold of November;
even the stars were strapped in the sky
and that moon too bright
forking through the bars to stick me
with a singing in the head.
I have forgotten all the rest.
They lock me in this chair at eight a.m.
and there are no signs to tell the way,
just the radio beating to itself
and the song that remembers
more than I. Oh, la la la,
this music swims back to me.
The night I came I danced a circle
and was not afraid.
In just three years of writing, Anne's development was a daring representation of the perspective of a madwoman. Some kind of breakdown has exiled her to an asylum. Which way is home? Further into madness. The poem registers desire for the condition Anne frequently sought and rarely achieved during therapy sessions by falling into trance states - the security of complete delusion. In the poem, this desire is cleverly conveyed in an analogy to the common experience of hearing a banal popular song playing on a radio and being invaded by an intense earlier experience that the music "remembers." In Anne's metaphor, the music is a former identity that overtakes her: not a memory, but a consciousness that unfolds in the violent imagery of "strangled cold" and "moon too bright / forking through the bars to stick me / with a signing in the head." This condition cannot be remembered, but it can be reentered. The poem is an appeal to a gatekeeper: Mister, which way?
Kayo told Anne that her poetry was an indulgence, just as her psychiatry was an indulgence, and he was tired of trying to explain her selfish behavior to both sides of the family. Anne said. "I can't remember what I said, but I walked into the dining room, picked up my poetry and tore it up, picked up my typewriter and threw it across the room. Then we got into the living room and Kayo started hitting me. After he smacked me down there was nothing left - I told him he'd won, I'd stop going to a psychiatrist and stop writing poetry, then he would love me." This became an established pattern: a dispute would escalate between them; he would grab her and shake her, and sometimes throw her to the ground and hit her; then he would become very remorseful. They were now used to ending significant quarrels with his blows and her dramatic gestures.
In 1958, Anne's father suffered a stroke and months later Mary Gray's cancer had metastasized. By November, Anne too sought hospitalization at the Westwood Lodge in a flight from the inner voices she describes in the poem she was writing at the time, "The Double Image": "They tattled / like green witches in my head, letting doom / leak like a broken faucet."
"Sylvia Plath and I would talk at length about our first suicides; at length, in detail. Suicide is, after all, the opposite of the poem. Sylvia and I often talked opposites. We talked death with burned-up intensity, both of us drawn to it like moths to an electric light bulb."
Who see me here
This ragged apparition
in their own air
see a wicked appetite,
if they dare.
"Witch" is spoken through a mask by a dramatic persona and offers a psychological portrait of a social type. Something about the short lines bothered her and so she lengthened them. The poem "Her kind" now began this way:
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.
Through the use of an undifferentiated but double "I," the poem sets up a single persona identified with madness but separated from it through insight. Two points of view are designated "I" in each stanza. The witch (stanza one), the housewife (stanza two), and the adulteress (stanza three) are those who act, or act out; in the refrain, an "I" steps through the frame of "like that" to witness, interpret, and affirm her alter ego in the same line.
"Her kind" served as the poem with which she began her readings, telling the audience that it would show them what kind of woman she was, and what kind of poet. The subjectivity in the poem insists on a separation between a kind of woman (mad) and a king of poet (a woman with magic craft): a doubleness that expressed the paradox of Anne's creativity. "Her kind" is not spoken through a mask, it calls attention to the difference between pain and the representation of pain, between the poet on-stage in print - flippant, glamorous, crafty - and the woman whose anguish she knew firsthand.
In September of 1959, Anne developed pneumonia, and during treatment her doctor discovered a suspicious mass in her pelvic area, which prompted exploratory surgery. A nonmalignant ovarian cyst was removed, as was her appendix. Anne recovered rapidly from surgery, but the threat of cancer stimulated memories of her mother's illness and, more deeply, conviction that both she and her mother nurtured an "embryo of evil" in their female parts. She had written about this weird doubling a year earlier in the doom-saying "Double Image."
In March of 1960, Anne's father-in-law, George Sexton, was killed in an auto accident. The death toll was now three parents in twelve months. "Kayo's father was more fatherly toward me than my own father ever was." George paid for half of Anne's psychiatric bills and was the only one present at the hospital after her suicide attempt. Weeks later Anne discovered that she was pregnant. Fearing the Kayo was not the father, she persuaded him that she was not healthy enough to have another baby. This was not easy because Kayo wanted another child which may have intensified after his father's death. Nonetheless, in early May Billie Sexton, Anne's mother-in-law, accompanied her on her visit to a doctor who would perform an illegal abortion.
Personal poetry came from the power of words to radiate meanings beyond the poet's conscious intention. "If I write RATS and discover that rats reads STAR backwards, and amazingly STAR is wonderful and good because I found it in rats , then is star untrue? Of course I know that words are just a counting game, I know this until the words start to arrange themselves and write something better than I would ever know."
In 1958, Anne had produced an awkward little exercise titled "An Obsessive Combination of Ontological Inscape, Trickery and Love," in which she tried for the first time to explain the significance, to her, of her bit of wordplay in her poetry.
Busy, with an idea for a code, I write
signals hurrying from left to right,
or right to left, by obscure routes,
for my own reasons; taking a word like "writes"
down tiers of tries until its secret rites
make sense; or until, suddenly, RATS
can amazingly and funnily become STAR
and right to left that small star
is mine, for my own liking, to stare
its five lucky pins inside out, to store
forever kindly, as if it were a star
I touched and a miracle I really wrote.
"Rat" was one of Anne's metaphors for her sick self; in another religious poem she wrote in June 1960, she made rats the agents of Christ's death ("In the Deep Museum"). But back in 1958 she had made the reversal rats to star her example for Dr. Orne on how words used by her were a vehicle for putting meanings in to the world ("Of course I KNOW that words are just a counting game, I know this until the words start to arrange themselves and write something better than I would ever know"). This "miracle" inevitably occurred with the use of rhyme, Anne found; words chosen for one kind of likeness (sound) displayed other kinds once set in place, expressing meanings more abundant than the poet intended. Her poems gave evidence of her psychological health: "I am pretending when I find it, but then I am real when I find it possible. I did it so I must be real."
Similarity to the fear held by the character Harold SmithAttending classes at Brandeis put Anne through some predictable anguish. Only her closest friends knew how terrified she was when she opened her car door and stepped away from its protective frame into the midst of strangers. "Walking into places is the worst part," she wrote to Dr. Orne. She feared exposure of every kind even casual exchanges with her teachers could precipitate humiliating betrayals of fear. She was unable to eat at the Brandeis cafeteria because the fork would shake.
Anne had retreated so that she practically couldn't get herself out of her house out of fear and anxiety. She had a friend call to a poem workshop to get information and later went to it with the same friend. Maxine Kumin (who would become her best friend) remembers her first impression of Anne being very well dressed in high heels, perfume, matching lipstick and fingernail polish. She immediately felt that she belonged and made friends with the group: John Holmes, Sam Albert, Maxine Kumin and Ruth Soter.
Anne yearned to browse in bookstores and libraries, but couldn't go unless a friend accompanied her, and she refused to enter them unless someone - usually Maxine Kumin - coached her ahead of time and stayed with her while she shopped. Anne explains, "Somebody sees me, and I see myself through them. Then it's all gone, the whole world falls apart."
In 1960, Dr. Orne took a new approach in therapy because he observed that she was making no progress. He commented, "She couldn't recall the content of the interactions, or she would misremember them. She was really trying to work, but she was severely handicapped by the inaccuracy of her memory."
To address the problem, Dr. Orne asked Anne to make notes about their transactions immediately after each session. These notes reveal that while she knew how she had felt during the treatment hour, she could not remember what had happened to cause the feelings, no matter how intense they were.
Dr. Orne next proposed capturing the feelings of the therapy sessions by recording them on tape. Her problems with memory, Dr. Orne told her, were "symptoms that some part of you knows a lot about. The tape gives you a tool, enables you to work with that part of yourself."
Similiar dream to Agent Cooper'sThrough 1961, Anne was still attending the John Holmes workshop. Holmes was offended by her poetry. He had been a Jekyll-and-Hyde alcoholic, and his wife had committed a gruesome suicide, slashing her wrists and bleeding to death over all his papers, which she had assembled for that purpose. That winter of 1961, he would write a letter expressing his anger. Anne wrote a letter in return defending her work.
Anne was, of course, hurt by Holme's dislike, but this exchange of letters provoked a productive insight into her relationship with the whole critical establishment, elaborated in a dream she reported to Dr. Orne.
Implicated in the figure of the male auditor were some of the critical reviews Anne's book had been receiving, along with the parents - now cleverly dead, beyond appeal - who had not lived long enough to read Anne Harvey Sexton's words in a book nor see the world confirm her as a poet. And at least part of the dream records Anne's struggle to listen to herself. Among the many internal voices condensed into the heedless voice in her dream is surely that of her taped therapy sessions, going on and on while the living woman crouches in earphones, aghast at "seeing the reverse" in every enunciation of her own words.
Ease at attracting menAnne was really fond of Anthony Hect, a Hudson Review poet she met in New York, who refused her sexual advances. She was very much afraid that her own impulses would take over, that her competitive spirit would grow more stubborn under his resistance. "It's not that I want to go to bed with him; I want to be sure he loves me. This [wanting] is like pills or drugs but much more complex." Anne discussed this attraction in therapy because she recognized an underlying pattern; lovers were stand-ins for some inexplicit, unavailable person, such as Dr. Orne himself. "It's not that I'm beautiful; it's just that I can make some men fall in love with me," she explained. "The aura of this thing is more strong than alcohol. Not just sleeping with them: it's a ritual. If I want to push it I just say 'I need you.' I've been thinking, well, I'm going to die of this, it's a disease; it will destroy the kids, axe my husband and anyone else's opinion of me. Ever since George, ever since my mother died, I want to have the feeling someone's in love with me. From George to Jim. A fine narcotic, having people in love with me."
A young poet commented about Anne at a party at the Cornell University Arts Festival, "I wasn't prepared for how extroverted she was." He remembered Anne's striking physical presence at the time, "a combination of awkwardness and grace, long legs and long arms, and smoke, smoke, smoke, smoke, smoke - always smoking." Anne's memory of the party focused on how she managed to drink a lot without exhibiting her shaky hands.
In November of 1961, Anne became acutely suicidal while working out the final arrangements on her second book "All My Pretty Ones." Kayo was away hunting and Dr. Orne was out of town. She contacted Kayo's therapist, Dr. Leiderman (used for marital problems). He "helped me wait [for Kayo's return], not kill myself," she later told Dr. Orne. She wanted to go to the Westwood Lodge but he kept her going. The next day Anne went to see Dr. Liederman at his office. The reassurance she received, however, evaporated the minute she left the office. She drove to a restaurant, ordered a glass of beer, and began taking what she intended to be an overdose of pills. She later told Dr. Orne that she had brought the wrong pills. Eventually she drove home, vomited, and asked a neighbor, Sandy Robart, to spend the night with her.
Anne faltered the following day, making almost hourly calls to Dr. Leiderman. The kids were in bed by six o'clock and Kayo was to return by eight. She sat at her desk with a glass of milk and the pills. "I was very nervous - if the cat moved in the house I would start to sweat. It was almost too late to run; I was afraid he'd catch me in the driveway. So I did something rather practical. Instead of taking the pills that would kill me I took Deprol [sleeping pills]."
Reviewing some of her old therapy tapes renewed her painful recollection of those events she had described to Dr. Orne: how her father had come into her room, and what Nana saw when she peered through the door, and how Nana then went crazy and said Anne wasn't Anne anymore. In trance, her accounts of this episode grew increasingly detailed and focused on Nana.
Anne discovered that in some way Dr. Orne (and Kayo, and James Wright) played "Nana" when she was in the grip of that "fierce unreasonable emotion" of loss which only one person could undo: Nana, or, now, her substitutes. "It must be Nana who leaves, then everything is disorganized, then Nana who returns and everything is organized." Anne acted out Nana's "return" by retreating into girlhood. In the doctor's office, this often took the from of wanting "to curl up and sigh 'Don't leave me.'" At home, the emotional dynamic she yearned for was captured in the refrain she demanded nightly from Kayo while he stroked her head: "Yes, Anne, you are a good girl." She believed that these safe feelings of dependency on Nana had been disrupted by sexual feelings for her father.
The process of reviewing her notes on old tapes did send her into a flight of free association on her typewriter, however, and she captured the core problem in a very few phrases:
I would like to lie down beside you and go to sleep, and you will never leave me because I am a good girl. But I can't have sex with you because I can't have sex with Nana. My father was a king. The king can have sex with anyone. Don't say anything that will scare me or I will run away. I want to run but I am scared. Don't move because I am scared of things changing. I am so scared that my fingers hurt, my arm hurts, my stomach hurts. I pass out, for one thing, to get rid of my body. I'm myself, I tell you, that means my body is itself, that my soul has left it alone. I am going out of my mind, is there no place that is calm, a pool of milk. I want my mother, I hate my mother. Nana was safe. Nana was crazy. Daddy was drunk. I am a little bitch.
To "lie down and go to sleep" alongside an unchanging "you" was a goal Anne accomplished with increasing frequency by passing out in therapy sessions. A climax in the struggle occurred in the middle of June of 1962. Anne went in for her regular Thursday evening appointment and told Dr. Orne she was going to have trouble leaving. Later she went into trance. Her inability to waken made Dr. Orne impatient, and he slammed a book down on his desk; this woke her, and she left his office.
Then she took her car to a drive-in restaurant and ordered a carton of milk from the carhop. She returned to the empty office of Dr. Orne, stretched out on the couch, drank the milk and then passed out. "There I was curled up like a little girl, right back in the womb, on your mother's couch!"
A mysterious note written in FrenchOne time, unable to wake Anne, Dr. Orne resorted to slapping to wake her, he then scolded her. Anne sobbed and felt "shattered", fishing in her pockets for tissues, she found a slip of paper on which were a few lines from a poem by Rimbaud. "Ma faim, Anne, Anne, / Fuis sur ton âne." "My publisher sent Rimbaud to me in prose translation, I don't read French, but all of a sudden saw my name - and the rest of the poem is about hunger." "Flee on your donkey": the message arrived in her pocket from another mad poet.
She asked her doctor to be admitted to the Westwood Lodge, where she stayed for a day and a half, spending most of the time writing up the experience in a new poem "Flee on Your Donkey," an early version.
Because there was no other place
to flee to,
I came back to the scene of the disordered senses,
came back last night at midnight,
arriving in the thick June night.
without luggage or defenses,
giving up my car keys and my cash,
keeping only a pack of Salem cigarettes
the way a child holds on to a toy.
I signed myself in where a stranger
puts the inked-in X's -
for this is a mental hospital,
not a child's game.
Today an intern knocks my knees,
testing for reflexes.
Once I would have winked and begged for dope.
Today I am terribly patient.
Today crow play black-jack
on the stethoscope.
Everyone has left me
except my muse,
that good nurse.
She stays in my hand,
a mild white mouse.
Hornets have been sent.
They cluster like floral arrangements on the screen.
Hornets, dragging their thin stingers,
hover outside, all knowing,
hissing: the hornet knows.
I heard it as a child
but what was it that he meant?
I stared at [my dreams],
concentrating on the abyss
the way one looks down into a rock quarry,
uncountable miles down,
my hands swinging down like hooks
to pull dreams up out of their cage.
O my hunger! My hunger!
To summarize the action: "Anne," settled into yet another hospitalization, she is acting out the conflicts. Despite years of treatment, nothing has changed "no place to flee to".
The reference "my hand" came from recognition that Nana's "mild white" hands had aroused sexual feelings. To go "without luggage or defenses" would mean to live by the insight that her hunger for Nana must find more benign gratifications that she had been seeking. Female authoritativeness of Mary Gray, the pack of cigarettes (mentholated Salems, to represent the cool and witchlike powers of her mother). Mary Gray was a smoker, as was Dr. Orne. The muse / nurse, is the "good mother" in Anne's psyche by Dr. Orne's encouragement. Hornets and bees were Anne's symbols for "some terrible evil, some truth, that's always around even when everything's all right." Like daddy when he was drunk and angry, the hornets knew about Anne's sexiness: when she tuned her bedside radio to "The Green Hornet" and "The Shadow," the man inside the radio could see her masturbating. Six years earlier Anne's hunger had brought her to an analyst. Now she has reached a crisis: the fantasy of rescue must be approached as a code - "disorder is not what it was."
Anne and Maxine Kumin wrote a play together called "The Cure." They junked the first version but kept the emotional centerpiece: suicide. In the new plot, Daisy, the main character, kills herself and is sent to the afterlife, where she is interrogated by angels and then forced to return to the living.
Joy was everbody's little sister, and needed minding. A jaunty, adventurous child, she repeatedly terrorized the adults by walking on the narrow train trestle (wide enough for only for a train) that crossed the Charles River nearby.
Anne felt that she had to choose between two very different public personalities, the little girl and the vamp. "The child would do very well for interviews at home, no shoes and a shift, people couldn't tell if I had a figure. In New York, I had a costume, very low-cut and shocking, with the intention of letting people get to know me. When I'm that little girl I don't have my body! I can't explain that, but it's true."
Anne Sexton lived in Newton Lower Falls near the Charles River. Tillie Olsen, a friend of Anne's, recalls a time spent with Anne, "We walked along the Charles River, under the sycamores changing to their fall colors; it was my first fall in New England,".
Dr. Brunner-Orne, Dr. Orne's mother, decided to change Anne's medication when she was in the Westwood Lodge for treatment from a stressful return from a European vacation in 1963. Anne was furious, she knew Dr. Orne wanted her to confront this addiction to her sleeping pills.
Anne didn't believe that her pill-taking was dangerous, and the swift oblivion the pills provided was treasured bliss. Yet she wondered about the seriousness of her addictions to pills and alcohol. "It's not that I'm killing myself but that I'm controlling myself. Also when I drink. I'd really be a mess if I quit. I use all these things to control my fear - when I have the fear, I shake.
Anne's friend Sylvia Plath commited suicide in 1963. Anne's thoughts about suicide were well established. She would combine alcohol with an overdose of pills, "the woman's way out." "I don't want to die in some hospital - or something I'm afraid of. I'm so fascinated with Sylvia's death: the idea of dying perfect, certainly not mutilated; virginity is unmutilated, not yet spoiled . . . I'd rather die than have a breast removed - talk about mutilation! By then time they were done with my mother - or life was done with my mother or Nana! My father had this thing about perfection, physical perfection that is - Sleeping Beauty remained perfect."
Dying perfect was what Anne did every night when she took her sleeping pills, making herself a Sleeping Beauty. Like rousing her therapist's anger or her husband's physical violence, the suicide attempts would, from the point of view of her neurosis, settle some accounts. "He'd have punished me - like killing yourself is punishment - and when Nana looked at me and said I wasn't Anne." Being hit is like taking pills, "destroying a part of me, squashing it - I've killed part of me." This killed part is the notion behind Anne's image of a split-off aspect of herself as a "rat" who in death could find its own "star," and of the metaphor in her letter to Wilder of being one of the children of ugliness. Diminutive and helplessly evil, this inner creature had a life of its own that Anne longed to destroy.
In midsummer of 1964, Anne returned to working on her long-abandoned play, The Cure. She gave the play a new title, Tell Me Your Answer True, and a new plot, "A girl who has committed suicide finds herself in death as a character in a circus sideshow looking for Christ. She is hounded by morality figures with names like Backbiter, Barker, Flesh, and Charity." The action built toward the revelation of a crushing secret from which the main character's guilt flowed. That secret is an incestuous episode between Daisy, the girl, and her father, Arthur (nicknamed Ace), which is witnessed by Daisy's maiden great-aunt, Aunt Amy, who goes crazy as a result. Daisy has committed suicide in expiation. The play begins and ends in the afterlife, a limbo Anne calls 'The Place'.
At the worst periods of her sickness, Anne often felt possessed by Nana's vengeful spirit, which haunted he in the form of voices only she could hear. "I am looking for Nana - I know she is here - everyone who dies becomes a voice that follows me. The voices are small in my ear - they are tiny because they are shouting from so far away. Sometimes the voice is a stranger's - but he is dead - I do not know him. The dead people control me - they don't comfort me - they say awful things - I am afraid - they laugh at me - they can see through me. Nana, how can I let go. Oh why won't you let go of me Nana, with your voice in my head?"
They play's action is on the doctor's side: No Christ, no forgiveness, awaits Daisy after death. Neither medical nor religious institutions could address the problem of her guilt, which lay in the power of her body to arouse sexual desire in those with power over her life.
In the summer of 1964, Anne's complex relationship with her daughter Linda, who celebrated her eleventh birthday on July 21, was drawn powerfully into the play's vortex. In many ways Linda was Daisy: a child whose body was changing in front of everyone's eyes, awakening in her mother old memories and new pride. For Daisy, the onset of womanhood precipitates the disaster of seduction by her father and reveals a guilty eroticism behind her great-aunt's cuddling. The same threat haunts the poem, in the mother's fantasy about her daughter's sexual awakening.
and someday they will come to you,
someday, men bare to the waist, young Romans
at noon where they belong,
with ladders and hammers
while no one sleeps.
But before they enter
I will have said,
Your bones are lovely,
and before their strange hands
there was always this hand that formed.
The odd emphases "where they belong," "while no one sleeps," "their hands ... this hand" hold at bay the shame of incest that occupied neighboring circuitry in the poet's brain: incestuous actions taken by the hands of Ace and Amy. Writing "Little Girl" seems to have enabled Anne to make artistic use of her confused erotic feelings toward Linda, converting them into a poem of celebration that she read proudly in public whenever Linda traveled with her.
Unfortunately, the artistic resolution of these feelings did not have counterpart in life. For many years, when Anne couldn't sleep - especially when Kayo was away - she had been going to Linda: clingly and furtive. Only later did Linda realize that her mother must have been masturbating as she lay beside her.
The most generous interpretation is that she may have been very dissociated when she made sexual use of Linda. Anne identified deeply with this daughter, through who she relived her own psychological development. For Anne, losing Dr. Orne was much like losing Nana. Anne was eleven years old when Nana moved into the Harvey household. Anne sought from Linda the "safe" feelings, never acknowledged by Nana or herself as sexual, that Nana had provided so abundantly.
As Dr. Orne's departure loomed closer, Anne got shakier. After a month of zealous work rewriting Daisy's story, she began to suffer from Aunt Amy's symptoms. She was pushing herself hard to recall her most ravaging memories to create the voices for her play. Eventually, her "left hand" took over, she wrote to Anne Wilder. "I'm not depressed ... oh no. MANIC. That is what was driving the machine that drove the play that drove me nuts!"
Anne did break down as Dr. Orne was in the last stages of preparing for departure and her new therapist Dr. Zweizung was away.
Anne was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward for two weeks - much longer than her usual stay at the Westwood Lodge. She was given a new course of medication, first an antidepressant, Tofranil (imipramine). When this proved ineffectual, she was put on Thorazine (chlorpromazine), which by 1964 was widely used to treat people with psychoses such as schizophrenia, to relieve hallucinations and delusions, and to quell mania of the kind Anne displayed in her 'doubling off.' "Thorazine, they say, is supposed to make the rhymer go away." It had many side effects which Anne experienced: tremors, which made her handwriting difficult to read; facial distortions; involuntary movements of mouth, lips, and tongue; it produced discomfort but was highly sedating; caused weight gain; and made the user's skin extremely sensitive to sunlight.
The drug Thorazine was limited Anne's creativity, "I haven't written a poem since summer, I been unwittingly, lobotomized?" She had to protect her skin from any exposure to ultraviolet light: "Just a spot of sun on my arm felt like bees stinging me." Anne stayed with the treatment in the hope that adapting to Thorazine was a way of assisting her "right hand," her rationality, her Daedalus side (from Ovid's story of Daedalus, know-how gains, and his son Icarus, craziness, who flee Crete. She associated Icarus with her poet-self).
In 1964 the Sextons moved to Weston near Billie Sexton, they bought a house on 14 Black Oak Road. The house was olive green and had woods that bordered the back lot.
Anne Wilder, a psychiatrist, first met Anne before her trip to Europe. Their relationship became an issue in Anne's therapy. There was a component of sexual attraction between them that appeared at their first meeting. They written often to each other. Upon meeting in 1964, Anne Sexton acknowledged the erotic feelings that her friend aroused. In therapy Anne did not mention the connection between her feelings for her other "twin," Nana, and this new "twin," Anne, nor the feelings toward Linda she had been acting out.
What bothered her most in this exchange, apparently, was Wilder's matter-of-fact statement that their ardor had been erotic all along. Anne had a lot at stake in denying this interpretation of their intimacy. Over a week later, she was still contesting the point, in the same terms she had used to Dr. Orne when he had suggested that her relationship to Nana had a sexual component. In her emotional economy, being loved by the world's Nanas (Linda, Maxine, Dr. Orne) required keeping sex out of the picture: Icarus was pure. "For you to see it as sexual was to deny the life it had," she sulked to Wilder. "That's why the anger. I felt that you were forcing me to reject you and 'us' by saying everything had always been seen in a sexual light. I will tell you frankly that I see sex with anyone as contaminating the purity of a relationship. You probably have guessed that. I don't completely but in my little dwarf heart self I do. It's a labyrinth of meanings then and no way out but to slam doors and get sarcastic."
"Maybe way back I was related to Shakespeare? More likely Grimm," she jokes: "Good witch or bad witch, right from Grimm's fairy tales. Wish I could find I was related to him - or to a witch."
During a filmed interview, the discussion of witchery set up the most provocative scene in the outtake film, where Anne explains the role of background music in her process of composing poems: "I want you to understand how emotionally based some of my poems are in music." She puts on a Chopin ballad, opus 23, to make a point. "I'll tell you what poem I wrote to this: 'Your Face on the Dog's Neck.' . . . This song is like making love. It's not yet that it really turns me on, but it comes in a minute." She listens more.
"Wait, here comes the woman. Hesitant but there. [Laughs] But so there. [Whispers] This is it. Right here. Right in here, I love it. I think that's the most sensual thing I ever heard. I wouldn't want to have an orgasm in front of you, but no, that is it. Listen! [Cries out] Ahhhh, it's beautiful! You hear how that is like sex? I mean, it's like the most beautiful . . .
I guess I listen for my melody. When it comes, I just turn . . . Like a little dancer. And here, hear it? God. I can't write like that."
When the scene ends she is unembarrassed, self-possessed. She has made her point. To invoke the line from Kafka she often quoted, "Art should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us," and it has.
But what about that allusion to her poem for Anne Wilder? Anne Sexton does not tell the camera that she is thinking of a woman lover.
Anne met Robert Clawson, a young teacher, when he invited her to read for his English class. Together they went to a conference and that night had dinner together. After dinner, Bob Clawson and Anne were about to return to their lodgings when Bob Clawson remembered he had left something behind in the restaurant. "I came back out, and Anne was sitting in the car - the top was down - just looking up into the trees. She was in some kind of hypnotic trance. She was mumbling, incoherent, and her eyes were very strange. I brought her out of the trance by kissing her. She didn't want to go back to the hotel, so I drove down to the beach for some fresh air. She seemed to come around. She told me, 'You know what the waves say? They say I am, I am.'" Anne and Clawson became lovers for the seven days they lived in this other world. She emerged completely from the withdrawn state that disturbed him so greatly. On the last day, they again went to the restaurant and when they left they headed home. All during the long drive back to Weston, Anne's behavior was "spooky," Bob Clawson recalled. When he stopped for gas, she climbed out of the car and ran into a nearby field. "On the ferry, she was frantic - kept trying to jump off the back of it. I was literally going into the women's room with her, to be near her all the time."
Bob Clawson would resist Anne sexual needs but her therapists Dr. Zweizung, her "doctor-daddy", did not. Anne's coy phrase "doctor-daddy" conveys how conscious she was of her own transgression in this relationship. Small wonder that she began suffering from an acute sense of unreality as she crossed and recrossed Long Island South with Bob Clawson near the anniversary of her escapade with James Wright.
When Maxine Kumin returned from a vacation, Anne confided in her about the new development with Dr. Zweizung. Kumin was indignant: "Imagine paying to get laid twice a week!" "Anne always had the notion she was the most underloved person in the universe."
Anne became very interested in the music at the time: Beetles and The Doors. She creates her own group called HER KIND that uses her poetry in music.
Anne starts a poetry workshop for emotionally disturbed patients at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.
Tell Me Your Answer True is rewritten and becomes Mercy Street. Mercy Street becomes an off-Broadway play in 1969.
From Anne's point of view, Mercy Street was now "more about Aunt Amy; more her story." She had finally found a fully imaginative use for her complicated childhood relationship with Nana. In Mercy Street she came to terms with a reality her own guilty emotions usually denied: that Nana had been a real woman with a life separate from that of the needy girl to whom she was such a powerful force for good and ill. Though all the characters in the play are dramatically achieved, the most complex is Aunt Amy, who is based not only on Anne's memories but on details she had learned since Nana's death: importantly, that Nana had had money and that she had paid for her own keep while living in Ralph Harvey's home. Aunt Amy is a hardheaded realist who has seen through Daisy's ineffectual, charming father, yet she too has a flaw - the frustrated sexuality that erupts into her relationship with Daisy.
At the center of the action of Mercy Street is Daisy's seduction by Ace, which Anne called "the remembrance scene." Ace forces whiskey on Daisy, praises her "little peachy breasts," begins rubbing her back, then slides his hands between her legs. During this drama of seduction, the scene contains another figure, stage left: Aunt Amy, shut away in her own room, pacing and twisting her hands in an obsessive private ritual, chanting and raving, cracking a small riding whip.
This split action prepares for and explains the way Aunt Amy inhabits Daisy's consciousness. What Daisy brings to the Mass at the play's opening is defilement by sin inherent in the female body, because it attracts the parents' lust.
These disturbing themes did not bother the actors or the director, who approached the material as artists. Anne felt releasing recognition "These are my people!"
Seldes, who worked on the play 'Mercy Street', admired Anne's physical presence. "She was an enormously sexual, sensual person, and that is thrilling to feel about a poet, about an American poet. She exuded it. The way certain wonderful cats, or other animals, make you want to touch them, and be near them. She had that. It was partly her beauty; how people look has a great deal to do with how new people respond to them. But it was more than that - something inside saying 'I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm seething, I'm burning' - that's the word I'm looking for. 'I'm burning, if you come too close, you'll get burned.' She really had it."
It was ironic, or worse, that Anne felt so celebratory about the development of this play, for it did disturb her family life. Behind her ordinary parental worries lay her very specific difficulty with Linda, with whom she continued to act out the complex intimacy scripted in her relationship with Nana. Her deepest difficulties as a mother arose from her need to occupy the position of needy little girl, the need she had brought to Nana. That relationship had been severely disrupted by Nana's breakdown when Anne was thirteen and making her first tentative romantic friendships with boys. Now that Anne's children were developing into women themselves, their physical maturity, in combination with her work on her play, seems to have carried her back into her own pubertal struggles and her guilty attachment to Nana. Beneath her loving concern and motherly pride, she remained more identified with her daughters, particularly with Linda, than was good for everybody: invasive of their privacy, a little too interested in their bodies, a little too interested in talking about sex.
Similarity to the incestous sex sceneAs Linda had neared puberty, she had begun to dislike her mother's intrusiveness more than ever. For several years she had been pretending to be asleep when her mother got into bed with her and clung to her. But one night, when Linda was around fifteen, Anne had insisted that she come to the big bed and spend the night. Kayo was away on a trip, and Anne didn't want to be alone. They watched television for a while; then Linda fell asleep. In the middle of the night she woke, feeling that she couldn't breathe. It was dark, but she realized that her mother was lying astride her, rubbing against her and kissing her on the mouth. "I felt suffocated. I remember pulling out of bed and throwing up. Mother followed me into the bathroom, and soothed my head."
Linda felt deeply humiliated and pulled in two directions. She wanted to feel close to her mother, but she was disgusted and frightened by the pressure for clear sexual intimacy. Shortly after this event, she asked to begin seeing a psychiatrist. "I had gotten awfully depressed," she remembered.
An excerpt from Linda Sexton:
I remembered the seventh grade, my first years of junior high, when I had to get up earlier than either Joy or Daddy to catch my bus. That spring Mother was not sleeping well, and she often crept into my room just as the sun came around the corner of my window. Sliding between the covers, she pressed her long body against mine and I would wake to find her curled around me. Under the warm heap of covers, her naked belly and thighs pressed against my back and bare buttocks, my nightgown having bunched up around my waist during the night. As she rocked herself back and forth against me, her flesh damp and sticky, I closed my eyes and lay still, choking with disgust, my throat clenched against a scream I tamped down inside. I wanted to shove her away, but instead I waited for her to finish. The sound of that unvoiced scream echoes still inside my body.
Anne no longer came to Linda's bed, but she now began confiding in Linda about her sexual escapades. Linda speculated, "It was as if she now needed to cast me in the role of the disapproving parent - Nana at the doorway - because it was inevitable that I would be hurt and disgusted, for my father's sake, by her philandering." Although Mercy Street illuminated a warped double bond - father with daughter, great-aunt with great-niece - that deformed a family through several generations, its author was reproducing and amplifying the situation in her own family.
Linda remembered, "The evening meal became a pivotal point, rimmed and edged with tension. At the table, Mother was so often crazed; we had to contain it somehow. She'd talk gibberish, she'd stare at the wall, her eyes traveling mechanically up then down in a way my father called 'headlighting' - it drove him wild. We'd have to put her to bed. One night she fell straight forward and her face landed in the mashed potatoes! My father would say, 'Anne, stop it, you're frightening the children.'"
An excerpt from Linda Sexton:
Suddenly she clapped her hand over her mouth and shoved herself back from the table. Running from the room she began to vomit into her hand. Daddy sighed and shut his eyes for a minute. We could hear her at the toilet, making awful straining sounds, because she had not closed the door. She never did. Daddy went back to eating with a certain stoicism. I couldn't possibly eat while Mother was throwing up. After a few minutes the water in the guest bath ran and she came back. No one said anything.
She sat down, taking several large gulps of her drink. By now she drank only vodka, because even alcohol could make her gag, and sipping vodka, was like sipping water. I looked over at her and saw that her eyes had begun to flick mechanically up and down, focused on the wall behind my father's head. This aspect of her illness - which Joy and I had nicknamed "headlighting" - was always a sign of impending disaster.
Daddy and I pretended nothing was happening: if we pretended maybe we could make it so. Her eyes traveled faster and faster and she started speaking. "They're too tight! I can't breathe with them on!" I froze and studied my plate. Please, God, don't let her fall apart! I stared so hard at my chicken wings that my eyes started to water. "You have to take them off or I'll suffocate!"
"What's on TV tonight, Daddy?" I choked out.
"Take them off," Mother commanded, her eyes rolling back into her head as her arms crossed dramatically over her breast.
"Take off what, Anne?" Daddy's voice was irritated - but underneath the irritation lay a dark vein of fear.
"The chains!" Her voice sounded slurry and drugged. She had gone deep into a trance. "Unbind my chains!"
I looked at Daddy, my heart banging away inside my chest.
"Unbind my chains!" she shouted, one last time, before heaving herself forward into the table. Her head landed right in the middle of the mashed potatoes on her plate.
"Mommy!" I started to cry and shake her by the shoulder.
"Mommy, wake up!"
Daddy came around the edge of the table and lifted her face out of the plate, gently wiped the potatoes from her face. "Anne, stop it," he said firmly. "You're scaring Linda."
"The chains, take off my chains."
I began to cry and we took her upstairs, stripped off her clothes, and slid her red satin night gown over her head. Once settled in bed, she turned on her side and seemed to sleep.
"Will she be all right?" I asked tremulously.
"Don't worry," he said. "It's going to be fine."
Later that evening, as I tried to fall asleep in the dark of my own bedroom, I left my door open, perhaps the better to guard my mother from herself. Their bedroom door was wide open, and a while later Mother's voice roused me from the drowsy state I had entered around midnight. It grew louder, and I awoke all the way, swinging my feet to the floor in case she should call for me. I waited on the edge of the bed, shivering. I heard her say something about being pregnant, laughing now, a little now, a little wildness in her voice. My heart sank as I realized she was obviously having another one of the trances I had witnessed at the dinner table. Then, as if my own body and heart could not tolerate any more emotional upheaval, nausea broke across me in a wave, bringing with it a cold sweat. I ran for the bathroom, arriving over the toilet bowl just in time. When I finished vomiting, I lay for a while on the cool tile floor.
I looked up to see Mother standing in the doorway, still dressed in her beautiful red satin nightgown. "Bobolink, are you all right?" she asked, bending to feel my forehead.
"I just felt sick," I said, "I heard you having another one of those fits, saying you were pregnant. I had to throw up."
The light from the hall caught her face and its smile. "Oh, no, honey," she said. "That was just Daddy and me having sex. He took me by surprise and I didn't have my diaphragm in and I was worried I might get pregnant."
I stared up at her. 'Unbind my chains,' she had said. 'I'll get pregnant,' she had said. Was there some distinction here that I did not perceive? Where did insanity stop and sex begin?
During the holiday season in 1970, Anne received a shocking piece of news from an old family friend, Azel Mack. Mack decided it was now time to tell Anne a secret he had kept for over forty years: he and her mother had been lovers, and he believed that Anne was his daughter. He brought "proof": a lock of her baby hair and a fancy studio portrait taken when she was sixteen (Mary Gray had covertly ordered an extra print for him). He took Anne on a trip to show her the place where she had been conceived and how he and her mother had sneaked out the back doors of their neighboring homes to meet for brief, passionate embraces and whispered talk.
Similarity to the prying through a diary scene
Anne had begun to feel the effects of age, and in 1971 something like the drama of "Snow White" was unfolding in the Anne household. Linda began taking the pill, ostensibly to regulate her menstrual cycle. Her mother expected that this development would lead to sexual experiments, and she expected to be kept informed. "When I finally did lose my virginity at age eighteen, after all the hoopla, I did it when she was away for a weekend," Linda explained. "I confided in Lois, but not in Mother; it was too complicated. Then she began saying things like, 'I can smell the sex between you! I know you've done it!' I'd say, 'I don't know what you're talking about.' Finally I accused Lois: 'You've told her - she knows too much.' Lois said, 'She's read your journal.' I hadn't exactly been hiding my journal; it was in my desk. Knowing her as I did, I think this must have fulfilled an unconscious wish. A part of me wanted to give her the gift of it. Another side of me knew it wasn't appropriate."
Anne was enraged by what seemed like Linda's callous betrayal, withholding from her such important information.
The poems of "Angels of the Love Affair" are prayers to the spirit of paradox. In each of the six sonnets the speaker sets her madness in simple language before and "Angel" of reversal. Etymologically, "angels" are "messengers," but Anne's angels are more like the charged poles in an electrical circuit. Polarized herself by despair, fear, or disgust, or even by joy, Anne summons the messenger of its opposite. To the Angel of Fire and Genitals she shows slime; to Flight and Sleigh Bells she shows paralysis; but to the fearsome angel of Blizzards and Blackouts she shows raspberries gathered on a July morning. Her associations zap swiftly into stanzas, tightly rhymed.
Angel of fire and genitals, do you know slime,
that green mama who first forced me to sing,
who put me first in the latrine, that pantomime
of brown where I was beggar and she was king?
I said, "The devil is down that festering hole."
Then he bit me in the buttocks and took over my soul.
Fire woman, you of the ancient flame, you
of the Bunsen burner, you of the candle,
you of the blast furnace, you of the barbecue,
you of the fierce solar energy, Mademoiselle,
take some ice, take some snow, take a month of rain
and you would gutter in the dark, cracking up your brain.
Mother of fire, let me stand at your devouring gate
as the sun dies in your arms and you loosen its terrible weight.
Anne divorces Kayo in 1973, she goes down hill quickly and has several suicide attempts with pills between mid-1973 and mid-1974.
Anne Sexton's life ended on Friday, October 4. She chose the day and the method very deliberately. The day before, her class met her at the plane as she returned from a well-paid reading. On Friday, she met Schwartz at her office, and left a new poem in her purse. It was an anniversary of their first meeting nine months ago. Schwartz late found Anne's cigarettes and lighter tucked behind a bowl of daisies in her office and grew somewhat apprehensive. The gesture seemed deliberate, and Anne Sexton without cigarettes was unthinkable.
She later had lunch with Maxine Kumin. As Anne drove away she rolled down the window and called something, but Kumin didn't quite catch it. It was a most considerate farewell - a receiver never set back on the hook.
She drove home and sipped vodka in her kitchen while she phoned her date for the evening and changed the hour for their meeting.
She stripped her fingers of rings, dropping them into her big purse, and from the coat closet she took her mother's old fur coat. Though it was a sunny afternoon, a chill was in the air. The worn satin lining must have warmed quickly against her flesh; death was going to feel something like an embrace, like falling asleep in familiar arms. Long ago she had told Dr. Orne, "Every time I put it on I feel like my mother. A genuine fur coat. Only she wasn't big, my mother was very small." Fresh glass of vodka in hand, Anne let herself into the garage and closed the doors behind her. She climbed into the driver's seat of her old red Cougar, bought in 1967, the year she started teaching. She turned on the ignition and turned on the radio.
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