The Truculent Bed

by Philip F. Clark

“At night, alone, I marry the bed.” It takes years to write a line like that, let alone the whole poem that comes with it. It is in such poems that I found Anne Sexton’s voice calling as it were, to a similar place in myself as ardent as her words. Becoming a poet involves reading — reading everything, often, and with complete attention. Mimicry is no homage; mimesis involves shedding one’s skin and dressing in the skin of the other.

But Anne Sexton also was a woman of articulate longing; of that ability to invest a complete marriage of word and image, and she was innately a poet of the vocal line. To me, her poems read as lieder. Whether dirge, whisper of sex, proclamation, or shriek of protest, Sexton invariably brings us back to the pleasures and damages of the bed–that place where we seek each other, and where we dream as well as wrestle, and where we hope–that single place of harbor that is public as well as private. Here, two of her remarkable poems which never cease to electrify me, “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator”, and a recording of her speaking “The Truth The Dead Know.”


The end of the affair is always death.
She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,
out of the tribe of myself my breath
finds you gone. I horrify
those who stand by. I am fed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

Finger to finger, now she’s mine.
She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.
I beat her like a bell. I recline
in the bower where you used to mount her.
You borrowed me on the flowered spread.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

Take for instance this night, my love,
that every single couple puts together
with a joint overturning, beneath, above,
the abundant two on sponge and feather,
kneeling and pushing, head to head.
At night alone, I marry the bed.

I break out of my body this way,
an annoying miracle. Could I
put the dream market on display?
I am spread out. I crucify.
My little plum is what you said.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

Then my black-eyed rival came.
The lady of water, rising on the beach,
a piano at her fingertips, shame
on her lips and a flute’s speech.
And I was the knock-kneed broom instead.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

She took you the way a woman takes
a bargain dress off the rack
and I broke the way a stone breaks.
I give back your books and fishing tack.
Today’s paper says that you are wed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

The boys and girls are one tonight.
They unbutton blouses. They unzip flies.
They take off shoes. They turn off the light.
The glimmering creatures are full of lies.
They are eating each other. They are overfed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.