Contains references to suicide
On the day your daughter, Linda, published an Op Ed
about the suicide of Nicholas Hughes, I broke
the spine of an old magazine, lay your “Courage” face down
on the glass, closed the lid, and pressed the button
to created a second generation. Your words gained heft, and
within the accompanying photo, a black ribbon—
your watchband choking your thin wrist—fogged over:
more darkness blasted into you by light.
Days later, when the copier re-copies that copy—
in that third generation—another bulb dims within
the room where you sit: still before the fireplace mantle.
The under-cover pulse of light, that inks
you and the book LIFE has posed in your hands
to silhouettes, asphyxiates the word “Deepest”
from the book’s cover and, among cloudier shadows,
washes your daughters’ pajamas more white.
Weeks later, a wintry day finds me, again,
at the copier, turning the latest facsimile
of you and your words into a fourth
generation. Your eyes, more bedroomed, appear
at peace with how your “Courage” flails—each word
a dark angel, roughened serif arms and legs
waving and kicking disembodied impressions
into the page’s thin field of snow. Years
go by. The original source long gone, each time
we must defer to muted copies of copies: you
adjacent your insistence that you saw courage
in “a small coal that you kept swallowing.”
With time’s dark blankets piling up, the light escaping
the edges asks more and more quietly, Anne,
didn’t you ever look ahead, as you “put on
your carpet slippers” to “stride out?”
Poem in response both to Anne Sexton’s ‘Courage’ and to this image of Anne Sexton sitting on floor in front of fireplace, reading a book as her daughters, Joy, 3, & Linda, 5, sit next to her reading books at home. (Photo by Ian Cook/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images)
William Rudolph earned his MFA in Writing from Vermont College—where his mentors included Mark Cox, Jody Glading, Leslie Ullman, and Roger Weingarten; he also has studied poetry under Edward Hirsch at Breadloaf and Jane Mead at the University of Iowa.
His poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, The North American Review, Rosebud, Quarterly West, The Nebraska Review, Rattle, The Comstock Review, The English Journal, The South Dakota Review, and many other journals—most recently Steam Ticket, SLANT, Blood & Bourbon, Flint Hills Review, and The Briar Cliff Review. He coaches student writers at Grinnell College and in GC’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program.