Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Breaking It Off (Poem)

Breaking It Off 
Letter from Anne Sexton

It is not enough
I have waited, a woman
with her knees bent to the dawn?

I slept with your promises, too,
welcomed them like I did
the slit of your eye on my back.

I celebrated with an empty nightgown
in a bed too big for two,
seclusion the gift of Lucky Strikes,
my vodka my booze.

Like a madman afflutter I nursed
nightmares in my arms,
rocked them to sleep, baby,
picked at their meaning
till my knuckles bled.

Your name hoarse in my throat,
I swallowed whole days
woven of hunches, hard-guessed
the rumors delivered in pieces.

God, you can be so cold.

When you needed oxygen,
I buried my lips
in your good right hand,
our habit of words never easy.

You covered my eyes
with your insistent kiss
and still I could see
I was losing you.

Tonight I get to watch
the pall of roses
failing at my window.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas

More years ago than I care to recall, I, along with many others, mostly women, were reading lots of Sylvia Plath (one of my college instructors was a poet deep into Plath), Anne Sexton, and Robert Lowell, plus John Berryman and, oddly, considering this group, e.e. cummings. Some of us even were required to try out these poets' voices as our own. There was a lot of bad poetry then, too. 

The version of a poem I wrote at the time, I abandoned to a box of college papers, which I indulge in re-reading every so often, trying to measure from where I've come. Last fall, I redrafted the poem and put it away again.

When my friend Glynn at Faith, Fiction, Friends recently posted "I Hear America Singing, Still",  I decided to pull the poem out again and revise it once more for this week's "Random Acts of Poetry: What Poem Do You Come From?" at High Calling Blogs. I don't know that this new version satisfies Marcus' definition of ekphrasis (see the comments section of the RAP post); it is less a comment about any particular poem of Sexton's than an effort to reflect something of her so-called confessional style (she could write some terrific poetry, by the way). Nor would I go so far as to admit that reading Sexton had any unforgettable or singular effect on me, although one of my books of her poetry contains a now-yellowed New York Times obituary for her, which I cut out and put in the book in 1974.

It occurs to me that a poem I wrote last year, "Hazardous Duty: Ode to My Kitchen", might work as a response to Sexton's "The Fury of Cooks" in The Death Notebooks. I did not have Sexton in mind at the time I wrote it, however.


Robin Arnold said...

The imagery is beautiful to me. Very touching too!

Brian Miller said...

wow. lots of emotion in this one...and yet it is driven by you descriptions...i swallowed shole days...God, you can be so cold...tight write...nice one shot!

Kathleen Overby said...

Because I have lived in a poemless vacuum for years, I only vaguely know the poets you mention.

I don't quite know how to express it, but where the word pictures intersect with emotion, it creates a visual feeling, that I instinctively understood somehow. Fascinating.

gautami tripathy said...

Frankly I don't know what to say here. It hits home somehow..

ode to un-puntuated verses

Anonymous said...

Incredibly well done, so much emotion in this....excellent writing, nearly had me in tears.

signed...bkm said...

I am happy you went through that box of paper and piece us your version here to inhale and enjoy....it does appear that poets go in and out of fashion..overdone and overstated until they are put away for another day...this is a wonderful write..."like a madman afflutter I nursed nightmares in my arms" something so desperate in those words...something so desperate in this poet....

Great One Shot....love your poetry...bkm

Hannah Stephenson said...

When I first read John Berryman, I think I said, "WHOA" out loud. I love Lowell...that middle generation is so fantastic (Jarrell! Bishop! Karl Shapiro!).

KB said...

I swalloed whole days...I can relate to that. Excellent!

Glynn said...

Oh, Maureen, it's beautiful and forlorn and aching and I din't know which is more. Beautiful.

Anonymous said...

"God, you are so cold..." What a line. This is marvellous. Beautiful imagery. Love and Light, Sender

moondustwriter said...

I'm glad you did Maureen. Oh I wish I had saved my poetry, my stories, the illustrations what was I thinking?

I like this voice, the speaker who has raw emotion and blank questions

A One Shot delight my friend

here's to the poets of our past and ourselves

Lorenzo said...

A very powerful poem that sticks in one's throat and mind after the words have run out.

I especially like the ending stanza with the failing pall of roses and the stanza with the name "hoarse in my throat", days swallowed whole and "rumors delivered in pieces" says so much in four short lines. Brilliant.

The ambiguity of "God, you can be so cold" is quite effective, too. A poem that demands to be read and reread again and again.

Shashi said...

Dear Maureen
Its touching... I liked when you vividly give views to my thoughts with words like "your name is hoarse in my throat" and then "God, you can be so cold..." Like it so much...

Thanks for sharing.

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya
Connect me at Twitter @VerseEveryDay

Gabriela Abalo said...

I truly love this poem!

great shot


Jingle said...

another beautiful work!

Claudia said...

overflowing with strong emotions...nursed
nightmares in my arms…frightening...

Eric Alder said...

While I'm more partial to Frost than Plath, I still appreciate her special flair for honest dispair.

I like that you offer up a bit of background with your posts rather than abandoning them on the spot-lit stage.

Monkey Man said...

Intense description of love's anxiety. Excellent One Shot.My "Tick Clack" One Shot is HERE.

Pete Marshall said...

you asked for honesty in your comments box at one stop and in all honestly this was a great poem...i thought it was very well written..cheers pete

Anonymous said...


A. Jay Adler said...

I nursed
nightmares in my arms,
rocked them to sleep, baby,
picked at their meaning
till my knuckles bled.

Man - that is to say, woman - Maureen! Sexton assignment fulfilled.

Anonymous said...

"You covered my eyes
with your insistent kiss
and still I could see
I was losing you."

Love these lines. The closing is very nice.

PattiKen said...

I like this a lot. And knowing the back story really adds depth. You must find comparing the first and current versions fascinating.

steveroni said...

Realizing this was not "what it's all about"...however, my identifying with your words zeroed in on these:

"I celebrated with an empty nightgown
in a bed too big for two,
seclusion the gift of Lucky Strikes,
my vodka my booze."

Soooo close to home(s) of yesteryear!

You ARE a good writer, poet. THANKS!

S. Etole said...

you always amaze me ...

Anonymous said...

your opening lines drew me in right away, and the verses that followed flowed with lovely dark imagery. this old piece was definitely worth reviving!

Michael Perkins said...

Made me tear up. Wow!

HisFireFly said...

I echo Micheal's comment.. wow!!

Olivia said...

Very beautiful and intriguing.. Thanks for sharing this small story, well composed..