Cripples and Other Stories
My doctor, the comedian
I called you every time
and made you laugh yourself
when I wrote this silly rhyme...
Each time I give lectures
or gather in the grants
you send me off to boarding school
in training pants.
God damn it, father-doctor,
I'm really thirty-six.
I see dead rats in the toilet.
I'm one of the lunatics.
Disgusted, mother put me
on the potty. She was good at this.
My father was fat on scotch.
It leaked from every orifice.
Oh the enemas of childhood,
reeking of outhouses and shame!
Yet you rock me in your arms
and whisper my nickname.
Or else you hold my hand
and teach me love too late.
And that's the hand of the arm
they tried to amputate.
Though I was almost seven
I was an awful brat.
I put it in the Easy Wringer.
It came out nice and flat.
I was an instant cripple
from my finger to my shoulder.
The laundress wept and swooned.
My mother had to hold her.
I know I was a cripple.
Of course, I'd known it from the start.
My father took the crowbar
and broke the wringer's heart.
The surgeons shook their heads.
They really didn't know-
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?
My father was a perfect man,
clean and rich and fat.
My mother was a brilliant thing.
She was good at that.
You hold me in your arms.
How strange that you're so tender!
Child-woman that I am,
you think that you can mend her.
As for the arm,
unfortunately it grew.
Though mother said a withered arm
would put me in Who's Who.
For years she has described it.
She sang it like a hymn.
By then she loved the shrunken thing,
my little withered limb.
My father's cells clicked each night,
intent on making money.
And as for my cells, they brooded,
little queens, on honey.
Oh boys too, as a matter of fact,
and cigarettes and cars.
Mother frowned at my wasted life.
My father smoked cigars.
My cheeks blossomed with maggots.
I picked at them like pearls.
I covered them with pancake.
I wound my hair in curls.
My father didn't know me
but you kiss me in my fever.
My mother knew me twice
and then I had to leave her.
But those are just two stories
and I have more to tell
from the outhouse, the greenhouse
where you draw me out of hell.
Father, I am thirty-six,
yet I lie here in your crib.
I'm getting born again, Adam,
as you prod me with your rib.
Anne Sexton's Other Poems
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