The full poem “Eighteen Days Without You” by Anne Sexton
* * *
As we kissed good-bye
you made a little frown.
Now Christ’s lights are
twinkling all over town.
The cornstalks are broken
in the field, broken and brown.
The pond at the year’s end
turns her gray eyelid down.
Christ’s lights are
twinkling all over town.
A cat green ice spread
out over the front lawn.
The hemlocks are the only
young thing left. You are gone.
I hibernated under the covers
last night, not sleeping until dawn
came up light twilight and the oak leaves
whispered like money, those hangers on.
The hemlocks are the only
young thing left. You are gone.
I slept last night
under a bird’s shadow
dreaming of nuthatches at the feeder,
jailed to its spine, jailed right
down to the toes, waiting for slow
death in the hateful December snow.
Mother’s death came in the spotlight
and mother slamming the door when I need her
and you at the door yesterday,
you at a loss, grown white,
saying what lovers say.
But in my dream
you were a weird stone man
who sleepwalked in, whose features did not change,
your mouth sewn like a seam,
a dressmaker’s dummy who bean
without legs and a caved-in waist, my old puritan.
You were all muslin, a faded cream
and I put you in six rooms to rearrange
your doors and your thread popped and spoke,
ripping out an uncovered scream
from which I awoke.
Then I took a pill to sleep again
and I was a criminal in solitary,
both cripple and crook
who had picked ruby eyes from men.
One-legged I became and then
you dragged me off by your Nazi hook.
I wa the piece of bad meat they made you carry.
I was bruised. You could not miss.
Dreaming gives one such bad luck
and I had ordered this.
This is the mole-
gray mouth of the year.
Yesterday I stole
out to your hunter’s cabin studio,
surprising two woodchucks and a deer
outside our makeshift bungalow.
On the way to Groton
I saw a dead rabbit
in the road, rotten
with crows pecking at his green entrails.
It’s nature, you would have said from habit
and continued on to cocktails.
The sun dogs were
in the sky overhead.
You, my voyager,
were dogging up the old globe going west
and I was at the feeder where juncos fed.
Alone in our place I was a guest.
And where did we meet?
Was it in London on Carnaby Street?
Was it in Paris on the Left Bank?
That there that I can thank?
No. It was Harvard Square
at the kiosk with both of us crying.
I can thank that there –
the day Jack Kennedy was dying.
And an hour later he was dead.
The brains fell out of his dazzling head.
And we cried and drank our whiskey straight
and the world remembers the date, the date.
And we both wrote poems we couldn’t write
and cried together the whole long night
and fell in love with a delicate breath
on the eve that great men call for death.
That was Oswald’s November
four long years ago.
I remember meeting secretly once a week or oftener,
know it wrong, but having those reasons.
So I commute to your studio,
my smooth smith, my softener.
We take love in all its seasons.
This is the last picture page
of the calendar.
Now I feel my age,
watching the feverish birds outside
pocketing grain in their beaks.
The wind is bizarre.
The wind goes boo, boo, boo at my side
and the kitchen faucet leaks.
This is the last leaf
in the year’s book.
Now I come to grief
as the earth’s breast goes hard and mean
and hay is packed for the manger.
Down by the brook
frogs freeze like chessmen and can’t be seen
and you are gone, my stranger.
A light rain, as tranquil as an apple, today…
mild and supple and fat and full-blown sweet
like the last February 2nd on Groundhog Day.
He wouldn’t come out and we lay odds
that his Mickey Mouse nose would greet
us, that his coma wasn’t part of the gods.
We thought he’d show at the Candlemass,
show his Chippewa shadow at eleven a.m.
We thought that coldblooded thing would pass
like a priest with his mouthful of beets
for the emerging mystic and the stratagem
that his wide awake show meets.
Pearl Harbor Day.
No rain last night, but an icestorm.
Jewels! Today each twig is important,
each ring, each infection, each form
is all that the gods must have meant.
Pearl Harbor Day
Silver flies in the wind, little stars,
little eye pennies pock up and pock up
and the broken mirrors scatter far
and all the watch parts fill my cup.
Each rock is news.
Each has arrived.
The birds, those beggars, are hardly alive,
feathers like stone and the sealed in food.
Owls force mice into the open. Owls thrive.
The ice will do the birds, or come unglued.
In winter without you I send
a Florida postcard to myself
to somehow remind me of the week
after mid-July and towards the end
when scummy Dog Days were on the shelf
and we had a week of our own to spend.
Snakes snapped their venom
and leftover sparklers were lit
and Roman dogs sniffed the milkweed
from which fertile perfume had come.
Small blackcaps came bit by bit
and we came too, from our need.
The sumac had red heads on display
and the good blood moved into every lamb,
tomatoes and snap beans under Sirius,
field corn and field mice came to stay.
Mornings I washed our plates of egg and jam.
Our last light a whippoorwill spoke to us.
Two years ago, Reservist,
you would have burned
your draft card or
else have gone A.W.O.L.
But you stayed to serve
the Air Force. Your head churned
with bad solutions, carrying
your heart like a football
to the goal, your good heart
that never quite ceases
to know its wrong. From
Frisco you made a phone call
Next they manufactured you into an Aero-medic
who placed together shot off pieces
of men. Some were sent off
too dead to be sick.
But I wrote no diary
for that time then
and you what you
do today is worse.
Today you unload the bodies of men
out at Travis Air Force
Base – that curse –
no trees, a crater
surrounded by hills.
from Vietnam, the multi-hearse
jets in. One hundred come day by day
just forty-eight hours
after death, filled
sometimes with as
many as sixty coffins in array.
Manual Minus Number
prefers to call this
the human remains.
This is the stand
that the world took
with the enemy’s children
and the enemy’s gains.
You unload them slipping
in their rubber sacks
within an aluminum coffin-
those human remains,
always the head higher
than the ten little toes.
They are priority when
they are shipped back
with four months pay
and a burial allotment
that they enclose.
for these human remains!
They must have an escort!
They are classified!
Never jettisoned in
emergencies from any planes.
Stay aboard! More important
now that they’e died.
You say, “You’re treated like
shit until you’re killed.”
And then brought into The Cave,
those stamped human remains
on a Starlifter, a Cargomaster,
a packet, a Hercules
while napalm is in the frying pan,
while napalm is in the death nest.
And what was at home
was The Peace March-
this Washington we seize.
I think today of the animal sounds,
how last night a rebellious fox
was barking out like Lucifer.
When the Beaver Moon lit up the ground
oak twigs scratched like mice in a box.
How in March we waited for the Hyla Crucifer,
those playbell peepers, those one-nice twinkletoes
that come with sticky pads into life when the ice goes.
Mostly it’s soundless, the world sealed in,
life turned upside down and down the lock.
So I will remember, remember cicadas in August,
their high whine like a hi-fi, shrill and thin
and when you asked me if I were old enough to darn a sock
I cried and then you held me just as you must
and of course we’re not married, we are a pair of scissors
who come together to cut, without towels saying His. Hers.
Then I think of you in bed,
your tongue half chocolate, half ocean,
of the houses that you swing into,
of the steel wool hair on your head,
of your persistent hands and then
how we gnaw at the barrier because we are two.
How you come and take my blood cup
and link me together and take my brine.
We are bare. We are stripped to the bone
and we swim in tandem and go up and up
the river, the identical river called Mine
and we enter together. No one’s alone.
And what of me?
I work each day in my
leotards at the State School
where the retarded are
locked up with hospital techniques.
Always I walk past the hydro-
cephalic doorman on his stool,
a five-year-old who sits
all day and never speaks,
his head like a twenty-five
cent balloon, three times
the regular size. It’s nature
but nature works such crimes.
I go to the large cement
day room where fifty kids
are locked up for what
they strangely call play.
The toys are not around,
not given to my invalids
because possessions might get
broken or in the way.
We can’t go out. There are no
snowsuits, sometimes no shoes
so what I do for them is what
I bring for them to use.
The room stinks of urine.
Only the two-headed baby
is antiseptic in her crib.
Now I take the autoharp,
the drum, the triangle,
the tambourine and the keys
for locked doors and locked
sounds, blind and sharp.
We have clapping of hands
and stamping of feet, please.
I play my humming and lullaby
sounds for each disease.
I sing The Fox Came Out
On a Chilly Night
and Bobby, my favorite
Mongoloid sings Fox to me.
I bring out my silk scarfs
for a group of sprites.
Susan wants the blue scarf
and no in is orderly.
I sway with two red scarfs.
I’m in a trance,
calling love me, woo, woo
and we all passionately dance.
Remember that day last June
in the month of the Long-Day-Beauty
that is called Indians’ Wawe-Pesin?
I tell you Summer came not one day too soon
and surely the calendar did its duty
and we stayed a weekend at the Provincetown Inn.
Remember that thunder storm in July
when the lightning came down the hill-
and I wore my sneakers to stay brave-
came rolling down like a beach ball to fry
and hang inside of the outdoor stone grill,
a toy fire that wouldn’t behave?
Remember that barhopping hunt
for a good whiskey and a straight rye,
The Old Overholt with a picture of Washington
looking somewhat constipated on the front
or The Wild Turkey with the crossed eyes-
bourbon we tossed down until we were numb?
The migratory birds
have flown the coop
but they’ll be back
with their built-in compass.
They’ll come back that way
the circus does each year-
with aerialists, our angular
birds that loop the loop.
Two years ago you bought
seats for the children in us.
Children of all ages
the ninety-sixth season is here!
La Toria held by her
wrist to a skyward rope
executed upwards of one
hundred body turns.
The lines in their cruel
cages marched up and down.
And FIREMAN SAVE MY CHILD
let midgets bring us hope,
scurrying to the scene, toy
engines while the toy fire burned.
On the outside, two days before
someone murdered a clown.
The ceiling was strung
up with tenement laundry.
A clown tied a bib on a lion
and fed him like a baby.
Ponies dressed like camels,
poodles dressed like whores
and Doval the Great with his
precious toes (I didn’t want to see)
climbed up over the elephants
and the children into immortality.
And you had your pocket picked,
you boyish conspirator.
The day of the lonely drunk
is here. No weather reports,
no fox, no birds, no sweet chipmunks,
no sofa game, no summer resorts.
No whatever it was we had,
no sky, no month- just booze.
The half moon is acid, bitter sad
as I sing the Blended Whiskey Blues.
Once upon a time
you grew up in a bedroom the size of a dime
and shared it with your sister. That was West End
Avenue in Manhattan. Longing for country you were penned
into city, peering across the Hudson at Palisades Park.
The boy in you played stickball until it was dark.
Once upon a time
I was the only child forbidden to climb
over the garden wall. I didn’t dare to speak
up over the Victorian houseful of rare antiques.
My dolls were all proper, waiting in neat rows.
My room was high ceilinged, lonely and full of echoes.
Once upon a time
you said, “Now that the cabin is ours, I’m
going to run the power in.” And we had a power party.
I made gingham curtains. We nailed up your Doctoral degree.
We turned the stove on twice. Oh my love, oh my louse,
we make our own electricity while we play house.
Today I bought a Scotch Pine-
O Tannenbaum- a Christmas tree,
as green as a turtle, a forest
of gum and resin and turpentine.
My love, my louse, my absentee,
alone in our place I was not a guest.
With my box from the Five and Dime
I hung bells and balls and silver floss
and one intense strand of reds and greens.
At the end I topped off the ragged pine
with a flashy star, the five point cross
that twinkles for the Nazarene.
Doing this reminded me of the fall awards
we gave to different trees, First Prize
was tacked upon the rock maple
in Lincoln Center, then out towards
Weston we pinned Best Birch at Sunrise.
We took our census of colors not people.
The purple oaks, the quivering aspens,
those heavy popes the color of old coins;
the woodbine- each with an award on its trunk,
pinned by us with home-made ribbons
on Columbus Day. Prizes when acid joins
the pigment and the sap has been drunk.
Today I bought a sprig of mistletoe,
all warts and leaves and fruit
and stem- the angel of the kiss-
and hung it in our bungalow.
My love, we will take root
during the Christmas Armistice.
Swift boomerang, come get!
I am delicate. You’ve been gone.
The losing has hurt me some, yet
I must bend for you. See me arch. I’m turned on.
My eyes are lawn-colored, my hair brunette.
Kiss the package, Mr. Bind!
Yes? Would you consider hurling yourself
upon me, rigorous but somehow kind?
I am laid out like paper on your cabin kitchen shelf.
So draw me a breast. I like to be underlined.
Look, lout! Say yes!
Draw me like a child. I shall need
merely two round eyes and a small kiss.
A small o. Two earrings would be nice. Then proceed
to the shoulder. You may pause at this.
Catch me. I’m your disease.
Please go slow all along the torso
drawing beads and mouths and trees
and o’s, a little graffiti and a small hello
for I grab, I nibble, I lift, I please.
Draw me good, draw me warm.
Bring me your raw-boned wrist and your
strange, Mr. Bind, strange stubborn horn.
Darling, bring with this an hour of undulations, for
this is the music for which I was born.
Lock in! Be alert, my acrobat
and I will be soft wood and you the nail
and we will make fiery ovens for Jack Sprat
and you will hurl yourself into my tiny jail
and we will take a supper together and that
will be that.