Bleeding Heart, Fringed – Dedicated to May Sarton



 I am running down a bridge

About to be dynamited

It seems suspended, green steel

Like the bridge over Eggemoggin Reach

From Sargentville to Deer Isle

That goes on and on almost a mile.

A bridge like a ridge,

The ridge of an ancient skeletal spine,

Beginning low and then rising up into the sky,

A rocky incline.


Frequented almost half a dozen years,

By May Sarton at eighty

The madness of some foolhardy woman

Wanting more, wanting the impossible.

Still attempting to reach others, to comprehend

Across the vastness that is sometimes you and I

To read her poems in this place,

This place away from home.

It plays over and over in my mind:

Somewhere along the eastern seaboard

A coastal night fog dense as black oxide,

This literary giant, ablaze, a controlled burn,

Cultivated, ripened and ready to fall

Embodied in the flesh and bones of an old woman, dying

Although she didn’t know it then

Not until the very end

After they prescribed the Prozac, Zoloft

The banality of an old woman, motel room,

The other woman in flight.


 I’ve finally decided,

I just don’t believe a word of it.

I finally decided. I just don’t.

Believe. A word. Of it.

Not reducing aging to infancy or infamy

Instead in the collapsing of passion and ration I am

Casting away the constrained being rarely

Immured in the body of desire

In the body of the dying.


My mother chased me ‘round the table

Which sits now in the dining room, scratched and

On humid summer days, sticky and

Across from my grandmother’s mahogany hutch,

I found in my parents’ basement

Chipped, filled with castoffs

Cracked ceramic cups from turn-of- the-century Italy, Japan,


They gave most all her antiques to Hadassah who sold them

And sent cash to plant trees in some far away land

I could not comprehend

Then, when she moved from her spacious Brookline apartment into

Her daughter’s house. Too old to live alone any longer.

It will happen to us all.

Keeping my mother’s pink painted childhood bedroom set,

A couple of perfect pieces, some mauled ones.

Mahogany living and dining room furniture all gone now. I bet

My self I will trudge into an antique store one sunny day

Come upon my grandmother’s furniture, fighting bitterly

With uncomprehending entrepreneurs over the law of return: I say

“Stolen things, stolen from my childhood,”

Knowing all the while

They were not stolen at all but given away

From necessity and shock and grieving

But mostly lack of space, foresight, say.

At night I fly like a barn swallow into rooms of furniture,

Heavy wooden pieces, locked away underneath

In the dungeon, the bowels, the basement of my unconscious psyche.

My grandmother’s furniture, it’s not clear which

Grand mother,  my father’s mother,

“Little Nana,” too poor

To have more than a couch and bed in that tiny musty flat

In Brookline, where the shades were always pulled.

We try over and over to find the key, to find

Someone to open the heavy wooden door,

My father and I,

But we never make it down.

The door never opens

I will never ever not ever get that furniture back.

Instead I sit at this sticky maple table and

I remember like yesterday my mother in pursuit.

I was only six years old in 1961, singing “Love, love me do, You know I’ll love you, but Please love me do” and screaming “Fuckkkkkk,

Fuckkkkkk, fuckkkkkk, fuckkkkkk” at the top of my lungs

I raced around this table squealing, laughter pealing.

No idea of the meaning of the word fuckkkkkk,

Except my brother, my older brother, that boy of nine,

Taught me a new word and younger sister I will always be, I wielded, wheeled

Propelled myself around this table like there was no tomorrow.

And soon after my troubles began,

A long slow descent into the madness of no woman’s land.


 Suddenly I was like a crab spider in winter

Stuffed into a nook on the siding of a camouflaged brown house

Not knowing when spring would come or if in the meanwhile I would be eaten

By a yellow finch, a tiny white-throated sparrow, or turn up a splinter in some kid’s finger.

Invisible. Erased. Locked in a jar in some stuffy tower.

I did not come up to the top of the ridge where I now live,

Bobcats, bears, rocks, rivers,

To feast my eyes on this expanse of forest greens and browns,

Toward the humpback mountain,

Melville’s winter white whale in the western sky

That land of Thoreau, Bryant, Holmes and Hawthorne,

Or down into the watery marsh,

Aggregate fruits ascending axil

Buttressed deciduous pinnately compound

Obtuse orbicular reflex maple a few remaining feeble oaks, maple

Apple, water beech, box elder, brittle willow, brown ash

Butterball butternut buttonwood

The neighbor’s rough-barked black cherry

American holly, hemlock, honeysuckle, hornbeam, ironwood,

My ten-inch baby

Magnolia, pussy

Willow, sumac.

It was not even like scrambling an egg

On the street, in the heat,

Of some city miles away

From that bridge

Spanning the dark waters of Eggemoggin Reach in the East.

But darkness, total darkness

As black as the woods in a new moon.

As quiet as the moment before calamity strikes, that strange stillness

Before a bomb drops or the tornado comes down the highway

Headed directly toward you. The sky darkens. The soul weeps and bleaches.

Manganese black. Utter aloneness.

Oh there is so much to try to see through, still.

They always thought I knew, still do,

What I was awash by.

Knew what I was saying, every word, my action,

What it meant, every feeling, thought.

Is is really true? Is anybody really like this?


He thought I was awake,

After sticking a pencil in the door jam, awake

As he disassembled the handle.

I still don’t know myself how I could have slumbered

Through the entire painstaking dismantle. But

I was only a sleeping child,

Not yet his rebellious daughter or dutiful son

Although I think I said the word “no” in the womb

And I would have held my breath until I died

In order not to do something I did not want.


There is so much I don’t know

About how we know what we do

Or don’t know what we do

Or why

Or what difference it all makes

Anyway, to know, not know

To live or die.

Logic and reason rarely rule the heart or the mind and

He even forgets how he beat me with that leather belt,

Forced my pants down, threw me over his lap. He forgets the beatings altogether.

I love him so much, my soon to be eighty-year-old father, who just survived a brainstem stroke,

            (i sigh/ i wail/i cry/i moan/imagining/my father/in/his tomb.)

Who even knew, who ever knows before the body yowls and sputters?

I have just discovered the brain stem.

Not the stem of a flower, not a gladiola

Or a peony fallen over.


There is really nothing to forgive

Memory is like that

And he was doing what he was told

Boldly going where many men before him had trodden

Before the path least traveled

Became an option

For a man like my father

Who knew of Frost but thought him less poet

And more in terms of weather conditions

On his long daily drive north to work

Up Route 128 to Haverhill.


I’ve never thought much of obliterating

Books, the sacred text, before now,

Never totally understood, viscerally,

The power reach influence command of the written word,

To alter, shift, radically, change,

Defer one’s cause, one’s heart, no matter truth or lies.

But this woman did it for me.

Portraying Sarton after a stroke,

Insistent on putting flowers into a vase of water,

As the emergency medical technician stood standing staring stunned

At such impudence.

The audacity of an old toothless drooling


She was,

Never, able, to move beyond body.

Even after death, reduced, in entirety, woman, to the world of flesh.

Her sacred muse trampled

Again and again.

Squashed like a mosquito,

The boundless urge to be loved

And desire.

To manifest the afflicted dolorous soul

In reverent language.


 I long to gather up Sarton’s ghost in my arms

Like a baby seal layered in crude oil

And lick her clean, return her

To her vibrant graceful vigor.


Two weeks later it happens again,

In my own soft downy bed, sheets like leaves

Here on this ridge, this ridge

Where I live in the forest, far from the edge

Of the sea.

Away from blue lapping

Distant sounds of motorboats on the wake.

Soft rain falling and only green,

Green, those verdant greens and velvet browns I so adore,

As far as the eye can see.

No Prussian blue, the Antwerp faded blue of my girlhood, but

Egyptian green, raw/ burnt/ chestnut/ umber, brown ochre,

Burnt green earth

And inland songbirds

Sounds you hear upon summer’s dawn

Phoebes, brown creepers, wren, bluebird, thrush, American

Robin, warblers.

Their voices only drowned by a fierce wind.


This time she is an ancient woman

Clothes soaked with urine, unwashed, unkempt, gumming words.

That smell of rotting flesh from tumors unchecked

A swelling belly.

She has almost fully left that body

Devoured by the inevitable incompressible monster of mortality.

I am with her; we are walking together, side by side.

She, both her and her and her and her

All the women I have ever loved and love

All the old women I have ever known

The smell of the spring in New Hampshire

When I first began to long for another woman.

We shuffle along

In a slow


Down the dark hallway.

The place is empty, save us.

©  Susan Lynn Gesmer, In Maine with May Sarton

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