(from The Mobius Strip Club of Grief)
I used sit in the bathroom stall at school
But it is possible here
in the nightclub of sorrow
for those who never got it before—
it’s a kind of vanity
you can convene among
who fall under the mathematical term “homeomorphism”
which means if you stretch and stretch
you can make a version of yourself out of them;
their topological space is equal to our own,
just as a donut and coffee mug are equal.
Do you understand?
There’s so much to learn.
An even number of nipples
swaying in the strobe-lit main thoroughfare;
the murmuring of understanding,
ah-ha moments of orgasm
like reaching an original state of consciousness,
that brief moment of freedom
from the memory of your education.
The strippers will bend over you
at your tiny round table
breathing cream and sugar coffee into your ear
asking you if you need anything;
check your math—
I’m here for you, the ancestry says
placing a gold star on your cheek
where an F should be.
∞ Emily Dickinson
(from The Mobius Strip Club of Grief)
Some nights she comes to act as currier,
midwife to our own skills.
Emily, come like a UFO to implant her genius in us.
Our Queen Mab, condemned to be the only woman mentioned
in the lyric omnibuses of her epoch,
easy scapegoat of men’s centuries,
she stood-in for all women.
So now, of course, she comes to blow off steam
in the privacy of the green room.
All those living years she walked from yard to yard,
gardens flourished in opium poppies;
went out at night to see the owls, and wed her genius—
passion applied like a hot iron sword.
And no one can take off her clothes, ever—
she comes and her language takes them off of us,
not piece by piece, not fumbling buttons,
but all at once in a single shot,
her tiny poems like grenades that fit in the hand.
We bask in the debris
stripped down to our private parts
the snow white of the bone, the authentic corpse in heat.
The absolute original.
Letter to a Letter to the Editors
“She clearly knew her melodramatic fears were groundless, and avoided challenge by expressing her invective through poetry—a multifaceted, intentionally cryptic medium through which she could conveniently deny unprovoked attacks upon those who loved her...”
—Anne Sexton’s nieces, Lisa Taylor Tompson Mary Gray Ford, in a letter to the editor, “Anne Sexton’s Vision of Reality” New York Times, August 1991, after the publication of Diane Wood Middlebrook's "Anne Sexton: A Biography"
“Tell the truth / but tell it slant”
Where Blanche saw reindeer on the roof, Santa, and expressions of love, Anne saw a particularly villainous season. Anne could “find a cloud in the sunniest sky.” These people from Scituate, Mass—I know them in my head and heart. The way they say how it is interesting but not surprising, that everyone who is slaughtered (reputation-wise) is dead. The way one person took up so much static-electric space, and spread out. How could that sweet old man we loved have molested her? They ask. (O But how predators work, separating one from the rest). The body cringing at the sight of the one who harmed it—the deep voice of it comes out, to balance out the well-meaning upper-middle-class, the cherished, the sweet-loving façade. Nothing is accurate. Nothing is right. And who would see clots of blood for beautiful roses? They ask. Never presume the wet real grass is just yours, or the garden where everything is flourishing, or the sidewalk where a chicken bone lays, or the way the morning takes its time to unwrap, and the street begins to fill like a play—nothing you lay your eyes upon is just yours. And it is also all yours.
Does anguish only come from within your own head? Yes. But so does the meaning of words, the depiction of a cloudless sky, where there is nothing there, no sky at all, only an unbroken stream of water horded in it. And Anne went and ruined everything with her fucking chemical imbalance! Her strange and upset anger! Her “insistence on what she saw as brutal honesty! What is “brutal honesty” in poetry? Of course she chose a mysterious medium to talk about a cloud that existed in a sunny sky.
“The pleasant memories were slashed” :( They assume that Anne assumed that poems were concerned with fact. But she knew the complicated presentation of existence. She didn’t write essays or memoir. She was all “Imagination without basis of fact.” Is imagination obliged to fact? The accepted social story must be consistent. The story must be sanctioned. The story must be liked. Must not upset Great Aunts, carted off, screaming. Awe at death was what she had in the end. Sisters will hate one another, and nieces will always take the mother’s side. So normal, I know! My family is full of angry sisters who want to explain their childhoods in different ways.
I had a vision last night of a massive heron with a shimmering rainbow neck that stood on top of a machine in my mother’s back yard, that dug graves in the ground. And her chicks were gathered under her wings as the machine swayed and clanged around; the man at the levers, indifferent in his control center continued to dig where the birds had lived—“But they are so rare!” I cried up to him. “RARE! LIKE, NOT SEEN NORMALLY! But he continued on, saying he didn’t think they were so rare. And I watched with nothing I could do about any of it.
What unwarranted conclusions can we draw? What can horror provide? There was also the “accident at birth” hypothesis offered by Anne’s nieces. Is it a “Misfit chromosome,” a “genetic misfortune,” that makes a poet?
“Some families, confronted with a child like Anne,
would have turned her over to state agencies for warehousing.
Our family chose to accept responsibility for one of our own. ”
— this, this this medium is not done with itself. And I’ll take her babble and immature, completely unwarranted conclusions. And tell things honestly with a slant like a roof where apples roll down, and snow slides off, under which Phoebe birds make weird hives and lay eggs—I think a poet will see truth through a distorted reverence for the underlying truth of shadows, not “human decency” which has nothing to do with poems— And where do these poem truths come from? In that, mistaken, we try and fix things that are broken to be new; there is only going right through the outrageous cryptic medium of vision. That isn’t anything but curiosity at being alive. When one has seen horrors in the midst of everyone’s enjoyment, then to pretend to see reindeer and elves would be to ignore a more powerful perception, thus covering it like a sheet over a body which will fester. The ordinary conceptual system that we live by is governed by metaphors neither obvious, nor desired to be seen by most. The automation of living is comforting. To closely examine the realities of germs, for instance, disgusts people, drives them to enthusiastically kill the vital bacteria needed to live a healthy life. Purell and a set of agreed upon concepts. It wasn’t that Anne was bad, just that, for whatever reason, she wasn’t let in on the agreed upon system of understanding reality—and her madness stayed a little with poetry. So, dearest nieces of Anne Sexton, I get it. But I disagree.
The ultrasound of my offspring
in whose sound waves
I can seem my mother’s love
and her mother’s love, jerking around
in the caged dark of the body.
Bianca Stone is a poet and visual artist. Her books include Someone Else's Wedding Vows and The Mobius Strip Club of Grief. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Baffler and Poetry Magazine. Her newest collection, What is Otherwise Infinite, will be out in January 2022. She lives in Vermont.