The Papa and Mama Dance


Anne Sexton

Taking into consideration all your loveliness why can’t you burn your bootsoles and your draft card? How can you sit there saying yes to war? You’ll be a pauper when you die, sore boy. Dead, while I still live at our address. Oh my brother, why do you keep making plans when I am at seizures of hearts and hands. Come dance the dance, the Papa-Mama dance; bring costumes from the suitcase pasted Ile de France, The S.S. Gripsholm. Papa’s London Harness case he took abroad and kept in our attic laced with old leather straps for storage and his scholar’s robes, black licorice—that metamorphosis with its crimson hood. Remember we played costume… bride black and black, black, black the groom?

Taking into consideration all your loveliness, the mad hours where once we danced on the sofa screaming Papa, Papa, Papa. Me in my dress, my nun’s habit and you black as a hammer, a bourgeois priest who kept leaping and leaping and leaping. Oh brother, Mr. Gunman, why were you weeping, inventing curses for your sister’s pink, pink ear? Taking aim and then, as usual, being sincere, saying something dangerous, something egg-spotted like I love you, ignoring the room where we danced, ignoring the gin that could get us honestly potted, and crying Mama, Mama, Mama, that old romance: I tell you the dances we had were really enough, your hands on my breast and all that sort of stuff.

Remember the yellow leaves that October day when we married the tree hut and I didn’t go away? Now I sit here burying the attic and all of your loveliness. If I jump on the sofa you just sit in the corner and then you just bang on the door. YOU WON’T REMEMBER! Yes, Mr. Gunman, that’s it! Isn’t the attic familiar? Doesn’t the season trample your mind? War, you say. War, you reason. Please, Mr. Gunman, dance once more, commenting on costumes, holding them to your breast, lamenting our black love and putting on that Papa dress. Papa and Mama did so. Can we do less?