A Game of Poker

Please find below the final poem from An Awful Rowing Toward God by Anne Sexton (1928-1974).

Sexton spoke of writing the book in just twenty days--and "with two days out for despair and three days out in a mental hospital"--and went home from a meeting about the proofs of the book to lock herself in the garage and start up a car, dying of carbon monoxide poisoning.

anne sexton.jpeg

 

THE ROWING ENDETH

I’m mooring my rowboat
at the dock of the island called God.
This dock is made in the shape of a fish
and there are many boats moored
at  many different docks.
“It’s okay.” I say to myself,
with blisters that broke and healed
and broke and healed–
saving themselves over and over.
And salt sticking to my face and arms like
a glue-skin pocked with grains of tapioca.
I empty myself from my wooden boat
and onto the flesh of The Island.

“On with it!” He says and thus
we squat on the rocks by the sea
and play—can it be true–
a game of poker.
He calls me.
I win because I hold a royal straight flush.
He wins because He holds five aces,
A wild card had been announced
but I had not heard it
being in such a state of awe
when He took out the cards and dealt.
As he plunks down His five aces
and I am still grinning at my royal flush,
He starts to laugh,
and laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth
and into mine,
and such laughter that He doubles right over me
laughing a Rejoice-Chorus at our two triumphs.
Then I laugh, the fishy dock laughs
the sea laughs. The Island laughs.
The Absurd laughs.

Dearest dealer,
I with my royal straight flush,
love you so for your wild card,
that untamable, eternal, gut-driven ha-ha
and lucky love.

--Anne Sexton, That Awful Rowing Toward God (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Publishing, 1975). 

I first encountered this poem at the funeral of the extraordinary Patricia Brennan, where this text was read alongside John Donne's Batter My Heart.

Images from here and there.