Anne Sexton, the woman and poet, intrigued me greatly as a young woman. Her personal story I found fascinating, her death, shocking and her friendship with Sylvia Plath I understood.
One of my favorite poems of hers is ‘For Johnny Pole on the Forgotten Beach‘.
I have a brother named Johnny who I love dearly. He has never been, I feel, a terrific communicator, is a highly sensitive soul and has developed survival mechanisms which both frustrate and move me. I love him more than I might ever express. We are blood and I value the history we have shared. He is my brother.
I think of him somehow in this poem, how one season in life can be so different from another, the wounds we carry, the death of and possibly rebirth of many of our ‘parts’. To me it’s a most beautiful poem and Anne Sexton, a woman misunderstood in her time.
FOR JOHNNY POLE ON THE FORGOTTEN BEACH, by Anne Sexton
In his tenth July some instinct
taught him to arm the waiting wave,
a giant where its mouth hung open.
He rode on the lip that buoyed him there
and buckled him under. The beach was strung
with children paddling their ages in,
under the glare of noon chipping
its light out. He stood up, anonymous
and straight among them, between
their sand pails and nursery crafts.
The breakers cartwheeled in and over
to puddle their toes and test their perfect
skin. He was my brother, my small
Johnny brother, almost ten. We flopped
down upon a towel to grind the sand
under us and watched the Atlantic sea
move fire, like night sparklers;
and lost our weight in the festival
season. He dreamed, he said, to be
a man designed like a balanced wave…
how someday he would wait, giant
Johnny, your dream moves summers
inside my mind.
He was tall and twenty that July,
but there was no balance to help;
only the shells came straight and even.
This was the first beach of assault;
the odor of death hung in the air
like rotting potatoes, the junkyard
of landing craft waited open and rusting.
The bodies were strung out as if they were
still reaching for each other, where they lay
to blacken, to burst through their perfect
skin. And Johnny Pole was one of them.
He gave in like a small wave, a sudden
hole in his belly and the years all gone
where the Pacific noon chipped its light out.
Like a bean bag, outflung, head loose
and anonymous, he lay. Did the sea move fire
for its battle season? Does he lie there
forever, where his rifle waits, giant
and straight?…I think you die again
and live again,
Johnny, each summer that moves inside