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Searching for Anne's Grave
(from Phoebe 2002: An Essay in Verse)

While Eve grills Phoebe, while Jeffery took (and passed, I must
say, with flying colors) Lynn’s quiz, I flew to Boston to visit my
friends Damon and Naomi. They’ve been wanting, for some
time now, to introduce me to the poets Frank Bidart and Lloyd

Schwartz (Frank and Lloyd’s boyfriend David live in the building
next to them). Finally, on the verge of my moving to Chicago,
we were able to make it happen. Naomi picked me up at the air-
port Friday morning, drove us to Cambridge. It was extremely

hot—high 90s—and humid. In the afternoon, sweating profusely,
the three of us went to the all-poetry Grolier Book Shop; it wouldn’t
be Boston without it. After browsing for a bit, Damon and Naomi
popped in on a Beck tech rehearsal across the square. I stayed in the

air-conditioned bookstore and chatted with its legendary proprietor,
Louisa Solano. I had to ask: “Did you know Anne Sexton? Did
she come here to shop?” The answer was no, but Louisa told me
she’d attended Anne’s last reading at Harvard. “She was a mess:

drunk and on drugs. She slurred her words, wandered all over the
stage. The audience was whistling and shouting, ‘Anne! Anne!
We love you, Anne!’ Egging her on. They wanted her to act out-
landishly. It was very sad.”
                                              Dinner that evening was magical:

five, six hours in their candlelit garden, the smell of incense (to
ward off mosquitoes) strongly pleasant, fountain burbling like
background music, bottle after bottle of Pellegrino. The food
amazing: olive tapanade, radishes dipped in salt, melon and

prosciutto, grilled salmon and polenta, fresh blueberries with the
most delicious yogurt/whipped cream topping. And the company
wonderful. Frank and Lloyd both lovers of film, so we had a lot
to talk about. I had to ask: “Did either of you know Anne Sexton?”

Frank said he’d met her socially a couple of times, that she wasn’t
the diva he expected. She became obsessed, at one point, with
Elizabeth Bishop, would leave little gifts at her door. (Shades, I
thought, of Jackie Susann’s crush on Ethel Merman.) When we

discussed Fellini, Damon said he was fond of Roma; Naomi men-
tioned the ecclesiastical fashion show towards the end. (Why, I
thought, didn’t I put that in “Filmic Fashion Shows”? It would
have been perfect. [Of course I ordered Roma from

the minute I got home.] And what is Juliet of the Spirits if not one
fabulous fashion show? Confession: I had to know how many cigs
Anne Bancroft smokes in The Graduate. As noted, my DVD was
packed, so I went to Kim’s Video to rent it. But as fate would have it,

I’d already destroyed [because I’m moving] my Kim’s card. So…I
bought the DVD a second time. Anne Bancroft smokes, I’m happy
to report, 9 Seductive Middle-Aged Cigarettes in The Graduate. And
this just in [because the DVD was just released]: Pam Grier smokes 9

Tired-but-Calculated Cigarettes in Jackie Brown [plus one that she’s
not allowed to light]. Miss D., as you’ll recall, smokes 9 Diva Cigarettes
in All About Eve. And speaking of fire-breathing actresses who should
have won Oscars [B. D.: “Thank you so much.”], Grier wasn’t even nom-

inated for her rich characterization—“the performance of her career”—
while Phoebe 2002 [“(T)inny and TV-bland” Helen Hunt] took the gold
that year. Anne Sexton smokes 9 Her Kind [Salem] Cigarettes in the
outtakes of a 1966 interview at her home in Weston, Massachusetts.

“I’m a constant smoker,” she says, lighting up. She sits at her cluttered
desk in her study, exhaling smoke, tossing Budweisers, reading poems
and mugging for the camera. She listens to music, as in a trance, equating
it to a man and woman having sex. As the interview progresses, she

begins to slur her words, is quite high by the time daughters Linda and
Joy and husband Kayo [what a hunk!] come home.) Saturday morning
after breakfast, Naomi asked me if I would like to visit Anne Sexton’s
grave. She remembered that I’d wanted to do this on a previous trip.

“Can we?” Damon did a search on and we were off
in their white Saab. We stopped at a deli for drinks; I stared at some
sunflowers—$1.00 each—but it didn’t register till we were back on
the road: I should have bought one for Anne! in tribute to her poem

“The Sun” or the end of “Live”: “the sun, the dream, the excitable
gift.” We started looking for a florist—I thought maybe I’d buy some
daisies, Anne’s favorite. Naomi spotted a sign—fresh flowers
and we found ourselves in a strange establishment: a thrift store with a

refrigerated glass case full of wilting blooms. I put together a decent
bouquet (lavender and white spider mums), which the shopkeeper
wrapped in cellophane then tied with a peach ribbon. We passed
through Forest Hills’ gothic arch and consulted the cemetery map.

Anne is buried in the SS section (I couldn’t help but think of Bad
Anne’s Nazi tropes). ee cummings is also buried at Forest Hills, in
section E (“Capital ‘E,’” Naomi observed). We followed Greenwood
to Hillside, parked near Ardisia Path. As Naomi removed the cello-

phane from the flowers, Damon and I walked up a slope in search of
Anne. Out of nowhere, an eagle swooped in front of us, flew over some
headstones, landed high in an oak. Damon and I were stunned…it
seemed like such a sign. We wandered about looking for Anne’s

grave, but couldn’t find it. I began to doubt that we would. (I did,
however, see headstones that said “Davis” and “Crawford.”) I
remembered how Jeffery, when he was in NYC last month, kept
asking my Magic 8 Ball about Anne. “Is Anne pleased with Phoebe?”

it says ‘yes,’” I said. DON’T COUNT ON IT. MY REPLY IS NO. Finally
Jeffery asked, “Is Anne mad at David?” WITHOUT A DOUBT. By
then I was begging him not to inquire further. “Is Anne going to

be pleased with Phoebe?” my signs point to yes. “At last!,” we
cried out, and put the goddamned Magic 8 Ball away. Suddenly
I saw it: sexton. “Here it is!” The family plot, a few feet from
where the eagle flew in front of us, and where it still perched,

almost directly overhead, as if guarding Anne’s grave. At home
I looked up the bird’s “magical meaning” on the Internet: Capable
of reaching zenith, great perception, bridging worlds. When the
Roman emperor Augustus died in A.D. 14, his body was carried to

the Campus Martius. There a towering pyramidal funeral pyre had
been built, and the emperor was placed upon it. As the torch was
applied to the base of the pyre, men in the surrounding crowd cast
their adornments into the flames. The flames crept upward and an

eagle was released from the summit of the burning mound, symbol-
izing the ascent of Augustus’s soul to the gods. Welsh legend told
of how the souls of brave warriors flew to heaven in the form of
eagles. In ancient Sumer, the eagle brought new souls (children) to

this world and carried departed souls to the underworld. In Syria,
the eagle carried souls to its master, the sun. The Hopi believed
the dead rose to become clouds drifting in an eagle-ruled sky. They
also kept captive golden eagles, believing them to be messengers that

could take their prayers to the spirits. When Naomi said that Anne
probably stood where we were standing when she was alive, I got
chills. “Maybe this is the ending for your poem.” I had told her that
we didn’t seem to know how to finish Phoebe. Not the end, but an

ending of sorts. ANNE HARVEY SEXTON 1928–1974. I thought of the
years I’ve carried her words with me, of the journey it took to reach
this moment, of how she’s looked after and guided me as a writer.
“Thank you, Anne, and bless you. May you arise, on golden wings.”

—David Trinidad

David Trinidad’s most recent book is Phoebe 2002: An Essay in Verse, based on the movie All About Eve and cowritten with Jeffery Conway and Lynn Crosbie. He teaches at Columbia College in Chicago.

Originally published in the October/November 2003 issue of Boston Review

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