Anne Sexton

Some Foreign Letters

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I knew you forever and you were always old,

soft white lady of my heart. Surely you would scold

me for sitting up late, reading your letters,

as if these foreign postmarks were meant for me.

You posted them first in London, wearing furs

and a new dress in the winter of eighteen-ninety.

I read how London is dull on Lord Mayor's Day,

where you guided past groups of robbers, the sad holes

of Whitechapel, clutching your pocketbook, on the way

to Jack the Ripper dissecting his famous bones.

This Wednesday in Berlin, you say, you will

go to a bazaar at Bismarck's house. And I

see you as a young girl in a good world still,

writing three generations before mine. I try

to reach into your page and breathe it back...

but life is a trick, life is a kitten in a sack.
This is the sack of time your death vacates.

How distant your are on your nickel-plated skates

in the skating park in Berlin, gliding past

me with your Count, while a military band

plays a Strauss waltz. I loved you last,

a pleated old lady with a crooked hand.

Once you read Lohengrin and every goose

hung high while you practiced castle life

in Hanover. Tonight your letters reduce

history to a guess. The count had a wife.

You were the old maid aunt who lived with us.

Tonight I read how the winter howled around

the towers of Schloss Schwobber, how the tedious

language grew in your jaw, how you loved the sound

of the music of the rats tapping on the stone

floors. When you were mine you wore an earphone.
This is Wednesday, May 9th, near Lucerne,

Switzerland, sixty-nine years ago. I learn

your first climb up Mount San Salvatore;

this is the rocky path, the hole in your shoes,

the yankee girl, the iron interior

of her sweet body. You let the Count choose

your next climb. You went together, armed

with alpine stocks, with ham sandwiches

and seltzer wasser. You were not alarmed

by the thick woods of briars and bushes,

nor the rugged cliff, nor the first vertigo

up over Lake Lucerne. The Count sweated

with his coat off as you waded through top snow.

He held your hand and kissed you. You rattled

down on the train to catch a steam boat for home;

or other postmarks: Paris, verona, Rome.
This is Italy. You learn its mother tongue.

I read how you walked on the Palatine among

the ruins of the palace of the Caesars;

alone in the Roman autumn, alone since July.

When you were mine they wrapped you out of here

with your best hat over your face. I cried

because I was seventeen. I am older now.

I read how your student ticket admitted you

into the private chapel of the Vatican and how

you cheered with the others, as we used to do

on the fourth of July. One Wednesday in November

you watched a balloon, painted like a silver abll,

float up over the Forum, up over the lost emperors,

to shiver its little modern cage in an occasional

breeze. You worked your New England conscience out

beside artisans, chestnut vendors and the devout.
Tonight I will learn to love you twice;

learn your first days, your mid-Victorian face.

Tonight I will speak up and interrupt

your letters, warning you that wars are coming,

that the Count will die, that you will accept

your America back to live like a prim thing

on the farm in Maine. I tell you, you will come

here, to the suburbs of Boston, to see the blue-nose

world go drunk each night, to see the handsome

children jitterbug, to feel your left ear close

one Friday at Symphony. And I tell you,

you will tip your boot feet out of that hall,

rocking from its sour sound, out onto

the crowded street, letting your spectacles fall

and your hair net tangle as you stop passers-by

to mumble your guilty love while your ears die.

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Anne Sexton