Anne Sexton

‘Jesus Summons Forth’

Jesus saw Lazarus.
Lazarus was likely in heaven,
as dead as a pear
and the very same light green color.
Jesus thought to summon him
forth from his grave.
Oh hooded one, He cried,
come unto Me.
Lazarus smiled the smile of the dead
like a fool sucking on a dry stone.
Oh hooded one,
cried Jesus,
and it did no good.
The Lord spoke to Jesus
and gave Him instructions.
First Jesus put on the wrists,
then He inserted the hip bone,
He tapped in the vertebral column,
He fastened the skull down.
Lazarus was whole.
Jesus put His mouth to Lazarus’s
and a current shot between them for a moment.
Then came tenderness.
Jesus rubbed all the flesh of Lazarus
and at last the heart, poor old wound,
started up in spite of itself.
Lazarus opened one eye. It was watchful.
And then Jesus picked him up
and set him upon his two sad feet.

His soul dropped down from heaven.
Thank you, said Lazarus,
for in heaven it had been no different.
In heaven there had been no change.

– Anne Sexton, ‘Jesus Summons Forth’ in The Complete Poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), 341–42.

‘The Sickness Unto Death’, by Anne Sexton

God went out of me
as if the sea dried up like sandpaper,
as if the sun became a latrine.
God went out of my fingers.
They became stone.
My body became a side of mutton
and despair roamed the slaughterhouse.

Someone brought me oranges in my despair
but I could not eat a one
for God was in that orange.
I could not touch what did not belong to me.
The priest came,
he said God was even in Hitler.
I did not believe him
for if God were in Hitler
then God would be in me.
I did not hear the bird sounds.
They had left.
I did not see the speechless clouds,
I saw only the little white dish of my faith
breaking in the crater.
I kept saying:
I’ve got to have something to hold on to.
People gave me Bibles, crucifixes,
a yellow daisy,
but I could not touch them,
I who was a house full of bowel movement,
I who was a defaced altar,
I who wanted to crawl toward God
could not move nor eat bread.

So I ate myself,
bite by bite,
and the tears washed me,
wave after cowardly wave,
swallowing canker after canker
and Jesus stood over me looking down
and He laughed to find me gone,
and put His mouth to mine
and gave me His air.

My kindred, my brother, I said
and gave the yellow daisy
to the crazy woman in the next bed.

– Anne Sexton, ‘The Sickness Unto Death’, in The Complete Poems (New York: Mariner Books, 1981), 441–42.