The Breast by Anne Sexton
This is the key to it.
This is the key to everything.
I am worse than the gamekeeper’s children,
picking for dust and bread.
Here I am drumming up perfume.
Let me go down on your carpet,
your straw mattress—whatever’s at hand
because the child in me is dying, dying.
It is not that I am cattle to be eaten.
It is not that I am some sort of street.
But your hands found me like an architect.
Jugful of milk! It was yours years ago
when I lived in the valley of my bones,
bones dumb in the swamp. Little playthings.
A xylophone maybe with skin
Stretched over it awkwardly.
Only later did it become something real.
Later I measured my size against movie stars.
I didn’t measure up. Something between
my shoulders was there. But never enough.
Sure, there was a meadow,
but no young men singing the truth.
Nothing to tell truth by.
Ignorant of men I lay next to my sisters
and rising out of the ashes I cried
my sex will be transfixed!
Now I am your mother, our daughter,
your brand new thing—a snail, a nest.
I am alive when your fingers are.
I wear silk—the cover to uncover—
because silk is what I want you to think of.
But I dislike the cloth. It is too stern.
So tell me anything but track me like a climber
for here is the eye, here is the jewel,
here is the excitement the nipple learns.
I am unbalanced—but I am not mad with snow.
I am mad the way young girls are mad,
with and offering, an offering . . .
I burn the way money burns.
Anne Sexton, “The Complete Poems,” from Love Poems (1969),
©1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. executors of the will, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, p. 175-76.