Treasure Island

Anne Sexton

(9 November 1928 – 4 October 1974 / Newton, Massachusetts)

45 Mercy Street


In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign -
namely MERCY STREET.
Not there.

I try the Back Bay.
Not there.
Not there.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
the servants.
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant's teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Not there.

Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
with great-grandmother
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.M.
at noon
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was...
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
me,
with the stranger's seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.

I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I walk. I walk.
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime.

Pull the shades down -
I don't care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?

Not there.

I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
my life,
and its hauled up
notebooks.

Submitted: Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Edited: Wednesday, August 11, 2010

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Comments about this poem (45 Mercy Street by Anne Sexton )

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  • Julie Rhodes (4/25/2014 7:43:00 PM)

    Still looking for mercy in a mind that has none for myself. Thank you anne for this one. (Report) Reply

  • Thomas Revitt (11/24/2013 7:36:00 PM)

    A ground breaking poem. Nothing I know quite like it. Images and rhythm so crisp. And the final focus like a rife shot through the heart. A hard hard truth. few wish to see. not even me! ! (Report) Reply

  • Samanthia Moore (8/1/2013 1:48:00 PM)

    Is my all time favorite poet, i wish she were still alive doing what she did best. She will forever be number one on my list. (Report) Reply

  • Annie Rich (4/23/2009 12:28:00 PM)

    Ann was a brilliant poet, the command of the written word.....breathtaking

    Oh Ann I wish you were still here. (Report) Reply

  • Charles Goddard (2/28/2009 4:36:00 PM)

    Captivating. Moving. Found out about her work through the Peter Gabriel song 'Mercy Street.' We are all looking for the place. We all know what it looks like. Will any of us ever find it, though?


    Brought tears to my eyes... (Report) Reply

  • Michael Gale (9/12/2006 10:44:00 AM)

    I cannot fathom that no one has read or commented on Anne Sexton's works.
    She was a giantess of poetic talent of confessional poetry.
    It seems that many of confessional poets suffer severely with depression and
    usually or already have commited suicide or is sure to take one's own life.
    Fish in a pocketbook is very imaginative and even more so to take them out and throw them at her street sign which probably symbolizes her life and depressed
    wish to end her life as living on this earth. Great poem-i give it a ten.
    God bless all poets-MJG. (Report) Reply

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