Amidst the jumbled shelves of a thrift shop, I recently stumbled upon the 1968 Reading Modern Poetry. An address label was slapped upon the cover, the address, I assume, of the previous owner, Lydia of Honolulu. How, I wonder, did this anthology cross the ocean and decades between Lydia and I?
Based upon the markings within the book, I gather Lydia purchased it for a class. Next to the listing of poems in the table of contents are scrawled days of the week, "Wednesday," and "Friday." Some poems have checks next to them. There are impersonal, predictable annotations penned alongside the poems of W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Theodore Roethke. Were it just for these markings, Lydia could be anyone. Yet, Lydia gives herself away by starring and underlining the name of Anne Sexton. Similarly she has starred the two anthologized Sexton poems, "The Addict," and "Cripples and Other Stories." Why, out of the fifty-something poets in the collection, is Sexton the only one Lydia found worthy of both starring and underlining? What is it about Sexton's dark madness that appealed to my anonymous fellow reader? Lydia, are you out there?
I loved Sexton's "Cripples and Other Stories," but as it is rather long, I'll instead offer you up a shorter poem, "Red Roses." It is much in line with Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," though I like the Sexton poem without liking the Roethke.
Tommy is three and when he’s bad
his mother dances with him.
She puts on the record,
“Red Roses for a Blue Lady”
and throws him across the room.
she never laid a hand on him.
He gets red roses in different places,
the head, that time he was as sleepy as a river,
the back, that time he was a broken scarecrow,
the arm like a diamond had bitten it,
the leg, twisted like a licorice stick,
all the dance they did together,
Blue Lady and Tommy.
You fell, she said, just remember you fell.
I fell, is all he told the doctors
in the big hospital. A nice lady came
and asked him questions but because
he didn’t want to be sent away he said, I fell.
He never said anything else although he could talk fine.
He never told about the music
or how she’d sing and shout
holding him up and throwing him.
He pretends he is her ball.
He tries to fold up and bounce
but he squashes like fruit.
For he loves Blue Lady and the spots
of red roses he gives her.