Columns > Published on November 9th, 2022

Dear Anne Sexton

Dear Anne Sexton,

A few years ago, a colleague asked me who my favorite poet was, and your name got caught in my throat. I didn’t—couldn’t—say you, even though your words lived in the blacks of my eyes. So, I lied. I think I said the drip in my bathroom, the way a child looks when it first recognizes fear. I thought about the color white, the way my blood hit the fan. There was a bullet in my hand, my childhood smashed against the living room window. My therapist told me to write poetry, but I couldn’t stop confessing. You had Bedlam and Mercy Street. I had the woods and the bats outside my window.

We both shared a death wish.

When I was 24, I fell in love with a ghost. We lived in a grave, in an abandoned house, on the rooftop of a bar. We played piano when it snowed, compared our scars under coffee tables, ate cheap pizza with sugar sprinkled on top. Sometimes when he slept, I’d count his breaths, memorize his jawline. If I close my eyes, I can still see him pouring wine from a glass jug, rolling joints, kissing pills into my mouth. He used to call me Janis because he said I sang the first time I left my body.

We shared a death wish, too.

For years, I heard your mantras in my head. I drank from your well, swallowed every drop of poison, slept with oleander under my bed.

I thought of you when he broke his hand, when I found him crying over his opened veins. I felt your spirit clawing at the roof of my mouth, slitting my vocal cords, tying my tongue. I wrapped his cuts in gauze, thought about the knot growing on my spine. You had a fear of drowning, but I had already swallowed oceans, and that night, I treaded water with sharks, my body a porcelain doll, a bucket full of chum.

Did you know you were hurting people?

Did you care?

I dream about this one night on the road. I was 22, 17, 13, and 8. I made promises I knew I couldn’t keep. I said forever when what I meant was my heart is already sold, but I was a surgeon, an exorcist, and he was wrapped around me, coiled like a snake. He kissed me and I ate the apple, and all of this is a lie and some of it is the truth. At night, I rewrite my history, but he is the blackout, the scrying glass. I became a failed binding spell, the wedding ring I couldn’t take off.

I knew I was hurting people.

I cared, but not enough.

For years, I heard your mantras in my head. I drank from your well, swallowed every drop of poison, slept with oleander under my bed. I searched for God in gondolas, dug up graves, knelt at the altar of mothers and mourning, slept in the crypt of dead girls and lost beginnings. I was broken glass, a shattered mirror, and you came to me when I needed you: a vampire, a wolf. Everything red became cherry became scarlet became dead. You scared me and I begged forgiveness, cried mercy. 

But we both shared a death wish.

You with your mother’s fur, your rings and your vodka; me with my smeared mascara, my whiskey, and my phone. Every time I open the garage door, I think of you. I think of who you could have become, of who you did become, and when I say your name now, it’s filled with spiders, the sound of cockroaches between my teeth. I’m still angry—at them, at you—still lost in the dark, forever walking to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. But I don’t hear the death note anymore, don’t fear the windows in my house.

And the bats have stopped screeching.

The bats have stopped screeching.

Get The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton at Bookshop or Amazon 

About the author

Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous venues such as Weird Tales, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Fantastic Tales of Terror, Year's Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, and most recently, The Apocalyptic Mannequin. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich on her blog at stephaniewytovich.blogspot and on twitter @SWytovich. 

Similar Columns

Explore other columns from across the blog.

Book Brawl: Geek Love vs. Water for Elephants

In Book Brawl, two books that are somehow related will get in the ring and fight it out for the coveted honor of being declared literary champion. Two books enter. One book leaves. This month,...

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Books That Should Be Box Office Blockbusters

It seems as if Hollywood is entirely bereft of fresh material. Next year, three different live-action Snow White films will be released in the States. Disney is still terrorizing audiences with t...

Books Without Borders: Life after Liquidation

Though many true book enthusiasts, particularly in the Northwest where locally owned retailers are more common than paperback novels with Fabio on the cover, would never have set foot in a mega-c...

From Silk Purses to Sows’ Ears

Photo via Moviegoers whose taste in cinema consists entirely of keeping up with the Joneses, or if they’re confident in their ignorance, being the Joneses - the middlebrow, the ...

Cliche, the Literary Default

Original Photo by Gerhard Lipold As writers, we’re constantly told to avoid the cliché. MFA programs in particular indoctrinate an almost Pavlovian shock response against it; workshops in...

A Recap Of... The Wicked Universe

Out of Oz marks Gregory Maguire’s fourth and final book in the series beginning with his brilliant, beloved Wicked. Maguire’s Wicked universe is richly complex, politically contentious, and fille...

Reedsy | Editors with Marker (Marketplace Editors)| 2024-05

Submitting your manuscript?

Professional editors help your manuscript stand out for the right reasons.