The end of the affair is always death.
She’s my workshop. Slippery eye,
out of the tribe of myself my breath
finds you gone. I horrify
those who stand by. I am fed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
Finger to finger, now she’s mine.
She’s not too far. She’s my encounter.
I beat her like a bell. I recline
in the bower where you used to mount her.
You borrowed me on the flowered spread.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.
Take for instance this night, my love,
that every single couple puts together
with a joint overturning, beneath, above,
the abundant two on sponge and feather,
kneeling and pushing, head to head.
At night alone, I marry the bed.
I break out of my body this way,
an annoying miracle. Could I
put the dream market on display?
I am spread out. I crucify.
My little plum is what you said.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.Then my black-eyed rival came.
The lady of water, rising on the beach,
a piano at her fingertips, shame
on her lips and a flute’s speech.
And I was the knock-kneed broom instead.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.She took you the way a woman takes
a bargain dress off the rack
and I broke the way a stone breaks.
I give back your books and fishing tack.
Today’s paper says that you are wed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

The boys and girls are one tonight.
They unbutton blouses. They unzip flies.
They take off shoes. They turn off the light.
The glimmering creatures are full of lies.
They are eating each other. They are overfed.
At night, alone, I marry the bed.

While the title of this poem is rattling, its substance is much less sophomoric than our first reaction to it. Certainly candid, Sexton writes about her own inexact, self-pitying, angry, and indulgent means of coping with her abandonment after her husband leaves for a younger woman. I think that it would be far too easy to dismiss both the poet and the poem if we do not allow our minds to entertain the possible methods that we ourselves would employ in such loneliness and betrayal.

D.A. Carson, in the introduction to his book of sonnets writes:

I marvel at the candor and verbal power of Anne Sexton, but when I read her “Protestant Easter” (from Live or Die, 1966) or her “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator” (from Love Poems, 1969), I think I understand at least a little of why her desperate self-absorption and cynicism drove her to suicide at the age of forty-six.