Menstruation at Forty

By Anne Sexton 1928–1974 Anne Sexton
I was thinking of a son.
The womb is not a clock
nor a bell tolling,
but in the eleventh month of its life
I feel the November
of the body as well as of the calendar.
In two days it will be my birthday
and as always the earth is done with its harvest.   
This time I hunt for death,
the night I lean toward,
the night I want.   
Well then—
speak of it!
It was in the womb all along.

I was thinking of a son ...   
You! The never acquired,
the never seeded or unfastened,   
you of the genitals I feared,
the stalk and the puppy’s breath.
Will I give you my eyes or his?
Will you be the David or the Susan?
(Those two names I picked and listened for.)
Can you be the man your fathers are—
the leg muscles from Michelangelo,
hands from Yugoslavia
somewhere the peasant, Slavic and determined,   
somewhere the survivor bulging with life—
and could it still be possible,   
all this with Susan’s eyes?

All this without you—   
two days gone in blood.
I myself will die without baptism,
a third daughter they didn’t bother.   
My death will come on my name day.   
What’s wrong with the name day?   
It’s only an angel of the sun.
Woman,
weaving a web over your own,
a thin and tangled poison.
Scorpio,
bad spider—
die!

My death from the wrists,
two name tags,
blood worn like a corsage
to bloom
one on the left and one on the right—
It’s a warm room,
the place of the blood.
Leave the door open on its hinges!

Two days for your death   
and two days until mine.

Love! That red disease—
year after year, David, you would make me wild!
David! Susan! David! David!
full and disheveled, hissing into the night,
never growing old,
waiting always for you on the porch ...   
year after year,
my carrot, my cabbage,
I would have possessed you before all women,
calling your name,
calling you mine.

Anne Sexton, “Menstruation at Forty” 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 Parenthood, Living, Birth & Birthdays, Growing Old, Midlife

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Confessional

 Anne  Sexton

Biography

Much of Anne Sexton's poetry is autobiographical and concentrates on her deeply personal feelings, especially anguish. In particular, many of her poems record her battles with mental illness. She spent many years in psychoanalysis, including several long stays in mental hospitals. As she told Beatrice Berg, her writing began, in fact, as therapy: "My analyst told me to write between our sessions about what I was feeling and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Parenthood, Living, Birth & Birthdays, Growing Old, Midlife

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Confessional

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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