45 MERCY STREET by Anne Sexton


Email this review


Anne Sexton's voice persists from beyond the grave. She's bequeathed us her Awful Rowing Toward God (1975), and this, and still there's more to come. The culmination of a career of suicide notes, these seem to say I told you so. ""Food,"" she writes, ""I want mother's milk. . . I am hungry and you give me a dictionary to decipher. I am a baby all wrapped up in its red howl and you pour salt into my mouth. . . I need food and you walk away reading the paper."" Only some months before she died, she divorced her husband of 25 years and the group of poems, ""Divorce Papers,"" which records that penultimate trauma is oddly gentler, or in any case more tired and bewildered. The ""Leaves That Talk"" to her that last spring invite her to die. Every utilitarian object in her kitchen becomes a murder weapon; her bed becomes ""an operating table where my dreams slice me into pieces."" Coffins, funerals, cadavers, drownings, pyres, abortions occupy her poetry--everywhere she sees knives, bayonets, gas chambers, guillotines, iron maidens, axes. Insanity frightens her; religion doesn't assuage her. And her threats become bolder. You can't avoid the fact, as you read these appalling and heroic poems, that one by one, they made her less afraid.

Pub Date: March 8th, 1976
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin