Sunday, April 26, 2009

Anne Sexton's Daughter writes about her mom and I write about a tiny blue bird

This is Anne Sexton.

She smoked Salem menthol's.

And wrote a lot of poetry.

Searching for Mercy Street is a common theme in the poetry of Anne Sexton. It is a metaphor for the author's search for peace, for security and home.

Her daughter, Linda Gray Sexton, wrote this book trying to find her mother. While looking she wrote beautiful prose that turned into this book. She found Mercy Street.

Anne Sexton, however, never did.

Long post, well worth the read. Let's begin shall wee?

I recently finished the book pictured above. In this book, three women are discussed. There is Anne Sexton the poet, Anne Sexton the mother and lastly, Linda Gray Sexton, the daughter.

As for the first woman, I was blown away. I was not familiar with her work, well, perhaps peripherally. I can say that she was one of the first women to ‘verbally undress’ in her poetry and be a success at it. Her daughter spoke of the untold hours Anne spent, crafting the poems, working harder than anyone else. Revising some poems hundred of times over. All the hard labor proved fruitful for a body of work that is magnificent. Drop dead brilliant.

Her poetry is confessional and vacant of taboos. Just like what I write here. My goal of this space is to document me and my truth. Hold back nothing and lay out my emotions because, as Linda Gray Sexton wrote, “What I seek is only the truth of how I felt, a truth far more revelatory about me than any exact history". p 39

Let that last line sink in.

Anne Sexton the mother, was mentally ill. Her daughter documents a number of times where her mother would sit at the kitchen table, going crazy. Twirling her hair until it knotted and snapped. Staring a thousand yard stare, muttering in a low voice and not answering to her name. This was in the fifties, back when the only treatment for the mentally ill involved ice baths, strapping a patient down and Thorazine. None of which helped her mother.

Another part of her mother, beyond the mental illness, was a disordered personality. Somewhere in Anne Sexton’s development, she stopped maturing. She operated on the level of a 13 year old in a woman’s body. This is common among people who are abused. By all accounts, Anne Sexton experienced physical and sexual abuse as a child. Unfortunately, she visited this abuse upon Linda Gray. Also, like a child, Anne Sexton depended on everyone around her to take care of her emotional and physical needs. She firmly put Linda Gray, her child, in the role of primary caretaker. It was a role that the daughter continued until her mother's suicide.

Lastly, there is Linda Gray Sexton. By all accounts, she is an accomplished author herself. Her prose is outstanding. She unfolds her mother’s life through the lens of herself as daughter, a mother and author. All after she turned forty. The mature age makes all the difference in this book. She has had time to take an unflinching look at all of it. She has had time to open up all manner of ugly and violated feelings. She has had time to process and write an unbiased account of the woman she calls Mom, the poet Anne Sexton.

And this is where I write about my Mom.

Specifically, I want to write about the thread between her mom and mine. The reason Anne Sexton could visit such harm on Linda Gray, is that she had little empathy for others. Including her daughter. This is the primary problem with my mom, lack of empathy for her daughter. She doesn’t see me or hear my feelings because she will always come first. She has never sought to learn my truth. Or, if she does see my feelings, she doesn't respond. It is a house I live in, but it is not my home.

This is not true for her grandkids. While my mom has an overarching disdain for the hands on or day to day care of the kids, she is always there for a hug and comforts them when they are sad. But, my kids are tiny and dependant. My mom cared for me when I was tiny. I do remember feeling loved and secure as a child.

Gaining indepence has soured a lot of our relationship. My mom has a low tolerance for anything that is different. If it is not her, it is not real. When I developed the age of about fourteen, I became a completely different person than her. Her hurt was very deep by this development. Crying a lot. Temper fits. Hissed out words.

“Why?," she wrote me once, “Why do you want to hurt me so much? Why do you insist on being who you are despite how you’re Dad and I feel?”

Of course you realize how surreal that statement is right? I mean, it is a teenager’s job to grow up and be who they are. To separate from their parents and try on different identities. I was just doing my job. Yet it hurt her so much, she lived in so much pain. Crying a lot. Temper fits. Pain she put me in charge of easing, to be her caretaker. Which I did until I moved out.

Moving back in has caused me to stare this dynamic right in the face. To acknowledge the truth under my mom and I. Truth that hasn’t changed. She still calls me out for being different. Rolls her eyes, slams dishes around. She still has angry fits. Cries a lot. Still tries to suck me in, to be her caretaker. This is not her loving me. While she still lives in pain, I no longer feel responsible.

Then came a few weeks ago when she said this, “I don’t think I'd given you enough credit when you were a kid. I mean, you were a good kid, got good grades, volunteered. And now you have this master’s degree and help people. And you are a very good mom. I just don’t think I have given you enough credit.”

I was a little sad when she said this. There was a time when this would have healed a thousand wounds. But, I had already stopped waiting for the day she would crack open her love and see me for who I am. My healing is already done. I found my Mercy Street a long time ago.

But then she said, “You are better mom than I was.”

This also made me sad because it was bait. Bait to tell her what a good mom she was. To assuage her guilt or pain or whathaveyou. Caretaking bait. I just smiled politely and went down stairs. Holding the first part of the statement in my hands.

The words liquefied and I poured them into an eyedropper. Gingerly, I pinched the black rubber top and fed the tiny blue bird that lives inside my rib cage. The little blue bird was very thankful and spent the rest of the day flapping around, chirping the sweetest song.

9 Left a message at the beep:

James said...

I felt that at the end maybe you could have said something, made her think you had taken the bait, just said some little thing to make her feel better.
But, maybe you won't be able to give her that gift back until your little blue bird is full again.

You know best.

badgerdaddy said...

The smart-arse in em would have come out with your mum's line, and I would have corrected her tense: "No mum, I'm a better mother than you are."

But that's me. Hang on, I could be eating instead of typ

Holly said...

It seems to me, in this cosmic life of ours, that we pick the parents we have based on the requirment to grow our spirit to completion.

To that end, our parents will be either, the sort of individual you learn to walk away from and be less like in your life...or...

they are the example you work dilegently to be more like because they are outstanding individuals.

Might have something to do with the name, Holly...if you want to read about my mom, go to December of 08 on my blog and ferret out a post called, On Your Mother's Side.

Sister, I feel you. I hope today brings you some little drop more to feed your birdie...

Mrs. Hall said...

Oh James, that was so sweet what you wrote. But yeah, maybe I will be able to say something next time. When the little birdy is full again:)

BadgerDaddy: Yeah, there is the urge to be all smart ass about it. But this would only feed things. BTW What were your eating? Was it tasty?

Holly: Do not ALL writers have fucked up parents? I mean JEEZ can one of us jus stand up and say
I HAD A NORMAL CHILDHOOD FELT LOVED AND WAS ADORED. Let's hope so. I'll look for that post ;)

Bruce Johnson said...

Jeezzz....good read. The post was good until the last two paragraphs, where true inner angst and metaphor came together with a lot of force. Then it became and exceptional read. Very uplifting even though primarily about a pretty sad and depressing subject. Well done.

Mrs. Hall said...


see right there, that comment right there!! This is what I appreciate in the midst of your comments, very tempered, very balanced. Constructive imput is always welcome.

thank you for reading Bruce and for commenting in the manner you do. It means a lot. Take care.

Slyde said...


Thats a tough row to hoe. I am in a similar state with my mother, but for different reasons. My mother just never took anything i ever did seriously, and she still doesnt. I am a kid to her, and whatever dream or issue i have is considered to be not important.. a kids problem. it drives a wedge between us that i dont know how to fix.

p.s. i havent read your lost email yet.. i will tonight.

p.p.s. thanks for the voice comment.. you rock and you have a sexy voice!

Mrs. Hall said...


I think the way to deal with mother's who don't see what we want them to see, is to realize that that will most likely never change. After all, she never read my poetry when I was a teenager, she won't ever read my writing here.

The difference is that I don't offer it to her these days. Because this need I have, to dream, to live, to communicate all the beauty of life I see, to tell about me, I find other ways to fulfill this need. Because she can't fill it.

Because the need is the thing. Validate your needs, Slyde, dream your dreams. Know that they are important and important enough to chase.

But it is very unlikely your mom will ever understand your dream, or encourage you as you chase it.

So, move on and get that need filled elsewhere. Your wife, judging by that birthday poem you wrote, is very supportive, very encouraging. Your boy Earl, he being your heterosexual life partner, sees you and spurs you on. Most importantly be your own cheerleader. :)

This will help heal the wedge. Because your needs are being met, and being met by people who can meet them.

And from your mom, take what you can. Know that this can't be fixed, just dealt with. And you come out on top, happy and fulfilled despite it all. :)

and yes, thank you very much. I will be doing a post on the content of the message. interviewing mr. hall too :)

Cam said...

Anne Sexton!

My favorite is 'Her Kind' just because I SEE it in my mind. I can picture her at a desk, feverishly scrawling this one out, and the force that surely gave it life.
And, we have all "been her kind", at some point, haven't we?

I am glad you found Mercy Street, Mrs. Sometimes, I think I might be cruising the neighborhood.

My joy is for your little Pancake. She will never endure the cycle. You have broken the spell, Mrs.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...