With Anne Sexton at the Bookstore

We sit in the bookstore, watching
the rain roll like waves over the windows.
You are hungry for pie. You are ravenous
here as in all things, licking molten cherry
and bourbon, a crunchy sugar coating,
from your twitching fingers.
Decadent. Debauched. You wear rubies and
buy tomatoes, yes. You linger over covers
and stroke the spines of the titles,
fidgety for a cigarette you’re not allowed inside.
You’ve chosen Maxine’s new poems and some
psychiatric hospital history to fumble. A book
on how to make a superior cocktail.

I watch the rain, unable to concentrate.
I have carried you like a delicate pastry.
You are my elaborate metaphor,
my sometimes touchstone
to a maddening truth. But there is part
of you I will not bury on that beach
you’re always rowing toward.
Or explain away. You are the cautionary tale.
A broken egg. A woman who lived like a junky
on her fame, oozing into madness.
But more often as convenience. How did
you hold a Pulitzer in one hand and
molest your children with the other?
When you threw their dinner
and made them play your mother,
there could’ve never been a poem
worth that, no matter how it might’ve
bled through your brain and onto the pillow.

How do you look at me now and pretend
you’re not undone? I cannot undo this horrific
part of you, though I’ve studied your
lines and know what it means to want
a cure, to want a rest. By head. By heart.
When I write your voice, I write into a tide.
When I sit here with you Anne the Gray,
as the rain and the pie melt away, as
the books between us crumble like crust,
I imagine your daughters took some
solace when they heard the words,
ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

By Jen Rouse