Image by Elsa Dorfman

Ringing the Bells

I think this is perhaps confessional in its own way and yet it’s a voice in another way. By voice I mean someone else’s – a kind of monologue.

Ringing the Bells

And this is the way they ring
the bells in Bedlam
and this is the bell-lady
who comes each Tuesday morning
to give us a music lesson
and because the attendants make you go
and because we mind by instinct,
like bees caught in the wrong hive,
we are the circle of crazy ladies
who sit in the lounge of the mental house
and smile at the smiling woman
who passes us each a bell,
who points at my hand
that holds my bell, E flat,
and this is the gray dress next to me
who grumbles as if it were special
to be old, to be old,
and this is the small hunched squirrel girl
on the other side of me
who picks at the hairs over her lip,
who picks at the hairs over her lip all day,
and this is how the bells really sound,
as untroubled and clean
as a workable kitchen,
and this is always my bell responding
to my hand that responds to the lady
who points at me, E flat;
and although we are not better for it,
they tell you to go. And you do.


from The Complete Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1981), copyright © 1981 by Anne Sexton, by permission of Sll/Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Recording used by permission of the BBC.

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