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a tortured inheritance

April 3, 2009

Linda Gray Sexton (Anne’s eldest daughter):  I have been crying for Nicholas Hughes.

I never met Dr. Hughes, yet I believe I know a great deal about him. He was the second child of the poet Sylvia Plath, who gassed herself in her oven when he was a toddler. I am the elder daughter of the poet Anne Sexton, who gassed herself in her car when I was 21.

Nicholas Hughes hanged himself two weeks ago at the age of 47. And despite my insistence that I would never turn out like my mother, I tried to kill myself, too — three times — and would have succeeded once had it not been for the efforts of a determined police officer, who forced open the window of my car.

Did it surprise me to read about his suicide? Not in the least. As my mother wrote in one of her most famous poems: “I have gone out, a possessed witch… lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind./A woman like that is not a woman, quite./I have been her kind.” All of us who follow that depressing family path — from suffering to suicide — have known what it is like to be her kind. (read)

WANTING TO DIE
by Anne Sexton

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know
which tools.
They never ask
why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Still-born, they don’t always die,
but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue!–
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death’s a sad Bone; bruised, you’d say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.

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