All My Pretty Ones

By Anne Sexton 1928–1974 Anne Sexton
Father, this year’s jinx rides us apart
where you followed our mother to her cold slumber;
a second shock boiling its stone to your heart,   
leaving me here to shuffle and disencumber   
you from the residence you could not afford:   
a gold key, your half of a woolen mill,
twenty suits from Dunne’s, an English Ford,   
the love and legal verbiage of another will,   
boxes of pictures of people I do not know.
I touch their cardboard faces. They must go.

But the eyes, as thick as wood in this album,   
hold me. I stop here, where a small boy
waits in a ruffled dress for someone to come ...   
for this soldier who holds his bugle like a toy   
or for this velvet lady who cannot smile.   
Is this your father’s father, this commodore
in a mailman suit? My father, time meanwhile   
has made it unimportant who you are looking for.   
I’ll never know what these faces are all about.   
I lock them into their book and throw them out.

This is the yellow scrapbook that you began
the year I was born; as crackling now and wrinkly   
as tobacco leaves: clippings where Hoover outran   
the Democrats, wiggling his dry finger at me
and Prohibition; news where the Hindenburg went   
down and recent years where you went flush   
on war. This year, solvent but sick, you meant   
to marry that pretty widow in a one-month rush.   
But before you had that second chance, I cried   
on your fat shoulder. Three days later you died.

These are the snapshots of marriage, stopped in places.   
Side by side at the rail toward Nassau now;
here, with the winner’s cup at the speedboat races,   
here, in tails at the Cotillion, you take a bow,
here, by our kennel of dogs with their pink eyes,   
running like show-bred pigs in their chain-link pen;   
here, at the horseshow where my sister wins a prize;   
and here, standing like a duke among groups of men.   
Now I fold you down, my drunkard, my navigator,   
my first lost keeper, to love or look at later.

I hold a five-year diary that my mother kept   
for three years, telling all she does not say   
of your alcoholic tendency. You overslept,
she writes. My God, father, each Christmas Day   
with your blood, will I drink down your glass   
of wine? The diary of your hurly-burly years   
goes to my shelf to wait for my age to pass.   
Only in this hoarded span will love persevere.   
Whether you are pretty or not, I outlive you,
bend down my strange face to yours and forgive you.

Anne Sexton, “All My Pretty Ones” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. Reprinted with the permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

Source: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981)

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Poet Anne Sexton 1928–1974

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Death, Youth, Parenthood, Living, Relationships

Holidays Father's Day

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Confessional

 Anne  Sexton


Anne Sexton was born in Newton, Massachusetts and raised in Weston. The daughter of a successful businessman, Sexton’s childhood was materially comfortable but not happy. Her relationships with her parents were difficult, perhaps even abusive. Sexton’s closest confidante was her maiden great-aunt. She attended boarding school and after graduation enrolled in Garland Junior College for one year. Sexton later described Garland as . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Death, Youth, Parenthood, Living, Relationships

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Confessional

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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