At first, pain arrives wearing my own face, and I welcome her because I am lonely. I walk with her along the wooded path in the park behind the empty house, the dog snout-deep in the wet-matted leaves, and I tell her over there he kissed me, hard and she inhales. I’ve been here with you before, she says. She gets me drunk in Boston, runs her hands over the bar: you looked past me here, too, she says. You only wanted to see his face.
The confessional poet risks only what she’s willing to admit. I use the personal, wrote Sexton, when I am applying a mask to my face.
Because you will no longer touch me, I let pain instruct me. I bind my fingers together in the shape of an oath before I place them between my legs. In my imagination a single mouth lowers itself down my breasts and stomach in a perfectly straight line. I pretend I cannot recognize the mouth, the face, but I weaken and soon I am finished, bound prone into myself. I wake hours later and my fingers are white and cold and numb. When I return them to their starting place, they feel almost like someone else’s hands.
The confessional poet never discloses which of her stories are true. Some of her stories are entirely true, but all of her stories could be untrue. This self-protection sometimes looks like fraud. I use the personal, wrote Sexton, when I am applying a mask to my face. Like a rubber mask that the robber wears.
Pain hears me call her name, for I have named her, and she turns around. She resembles me less the closer I allow her. Some nights I awaken to her hands moving inside of me, her mouth pressed against my neck. You’d always ask me how does this make you feel? how does this make you feel? each time we fucked. How do I make you feel, Rachel. How do I make you feel. Pain doesn’t ask, for she already knows the answer.
The confessional poet risks more if she is a woman. Of Sexton, the critic John Simon wrote one of her symptoms was a preternatural need to be loved by everyone all the time. He wrote Sexton managed to function in some ways and keep teaching, writing, falling in love, having affairs — anything to keep her poetic juices flowing. He imagined her suicide as a kind of poem. In the end, Simon wrote of Sexton, it is the poetry that matters.
Pain leaves, and in her absence I dig my hands into my skin and nobody responds. I chase the escaped dog through the park as the sun sets because I forgot to close the door. I forget my gloves and hat and scarf and jacket and shoes and socks and run exposed through the snow because I have forgotten I possess a body. When I realize I am cold, a stranger has bent over me, blocking the waning light, the dog a shivering comma beside us. Who are you she asks me. Is this your dog? Who are you. Where do you belong.about the author