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.
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.
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