(9 November 1928 – 4 October 1974 / Newton, Massachusetts)

The Dead Heart

After I wrote this, a friend scrawled on this page, “Yes.”

And I said, merely to myself, “I wish it could be for a
different seizure—as with Molly Bloom and her ‘and
yes I said yes I will Yes.'

It is not a turtle
hiding in its little green shell.
It is not a stone
to pick up and put under your black wing.
It is not a subway car that is obsolete.
It is not a lump of coal that you could light.
It is a dead heart.
It is inside of me.
It is a stranger
yet once it was agreeable,
opening and closing like a clam.

What it has cost me you can’t imagine,
shrinks, priests, lovers, children, husbands,
friends and all the lot.
An expensive thing it was to keep going.
It gave back too.
Don’t deny it!
I half wonder if April would bring it back to life?
A tulip? The first bud?
But those are just musings on my part,
the pity one has when one looks at a cadaver.

How did it die?
I called it EVIL.
I said to it, your poems stink like vomit.
I didn’t stay to hear the last sentence.
It died on the word EVIL.
It did it with my tongue.
The tongue, the Chinese say,
is like a sharp knife:
it kills
without drawing blood.

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Comments (5)

Yes, the tongue is like a sharp knife: it kills without drawing blood.
Ann Sexton. up there with Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. Have her collected works. Can be a tough read at times but always genuine poetry. Never claimed to be a Superwoman. Scorched herself as all true poets should. A great poem indeed. Tom Billsborough
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Yes! It kills without drawing blood. Thanks for sharing this poem with us.
Very painful yet an emphatic portrayal of wounded heart that has been at the receiving end for so long. To read this poem is to re-live the turmoil suffered by the poet. How did it die? I said to it, your poems stink like vomit.