Anne Champion

Visiting Anne Sexton's Grave

Jamaica Plain, MA, June 2019
“It is June. I am tired of being brave.” —Anne Sexton

I waited so long to come to you, until
             my eyelids were blackout curtains
and I was sure every voice was a siren
             warning me to cower. I thought I defeated it,
Anne. I thought I found a way to escape
             your fate. No, Sylvia’s metaphor
was right all along—the bell jar hovers
             and you never know when it will descend
again, suffocate you, put your pain on display
             like some antique beauty. And I’m here,
kneeling in front of the cold, stone boat
             that holds you—the lover you lusted most.
There’s still a part of me that believes
             I’m your daughter, and you’re a nurturing mother,
though I’ve heard the rumors. How can I condemn
             the only words that swaddled me? Your grave
is littered with pens, shells, flowers: do you know
             how much love you have? Do I?
I’m here because you know how to wrench
             yourself from the womb of this world, how to sever
the umbilical cord that starved you. Your daughter
             says you were a monster. I told my mother
she’s a monster after she told me I lied about my rape.
             She sent me texts and emails that explained how women
who are actually raped go to the police—or their mothers,
             at least—anything else is a lie, because a woman’s lies
are her only weapon to injure. I blocked her
             and found myself on my floor, knees to chest,
a calcified stillborn. I can never judge you, Anne:
             this life mothered us and orphaned us in equal measure.
You taught me the lesson the dead know: if we wanted
             to wound the world, we’d do it with the truth.


When did you learn that your body
is just another machine for you to work,

how a man’s knuckles churn against your cheek
like gears, how to operate the pulley of your torso

when he’s mounting you, how woman after woman
lays her body down on his assembly line,

how something in your eyes clocks out?
I can’t remember when it happened for me—

I must have been just a child when men’s stares
started to crawl into me like an infestation.

I still jolt in the night, trying to shake the memory
of men’s palms out of my hair like a nest of hornets,

plucking stingers from my thighs.
I’ve never touched one of the fliers

with your missing faces, but I feel the grainy ink
on my fingers as I flip through another magazine

that promises the secret to making men love you.
It says our sex is nectar-sweet, says we need

to pluck the porcupine quills from our tongues
when we speak to them, when we kiss them, learn

how to shed our clothes like an engine purring.
They need to feel us shiver.

Even when they wrap their hands around our necks,
keep humming—men need us sleek, metallic,

not a thought in our heads, easy
to junk when we rust, when we break.

Anne Champion is the author of Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), Book of Levitations (Trembling Pillow Press, 2019), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere.  She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient. She currently teaches writing and literature in Boston, MA.