Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Bliss of Solitude: Anne Sexton & Lovesong: Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel

When I first heard the new Peter Gabriel album 'New Blood' I couldn't warm to it; it didn't seem to improve on the originals so why bother? 
I should have known better really; it's a grower, there's a newfound intensity that focusses Gabriel's... intensity; he takes himself seriously and I love that about him. I particularly like his new version of 'Mercy Street', a song that was inspired by poet Anne Sexton. 
Sexton was troubled, lost, crippled by depression and tried to recognise and shape her history using poetry as therapy. She wrote essentially for herself and found an empathetic audience only after her suicide. 
Her search for relief took her in search of the house where she once lived with her father as a child, 45 Mercy Street. 
She walked the streets but couldn't find the address. 
Her search for identity and 'home' are elements picked up by Gabriel in his beautiful song.
I'm sure that you are familiar with the version off 'So' so I've included the new take from 'New Blood' here: MERCY STREET
It's emotional presence may be better felt after reading Sexton's poem:

45 Mercy Street

In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign -
Not there.

I try the Back Bay.
Not there.
Not there.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
the servants.
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant's teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Not there.

Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
with great-grandmother
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.M.
at noon
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was...
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
with the stranger's seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.

I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I walk. I walk.
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime.

Pull the shades down -
I don't care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?

Not there.

I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
my life,
and its hauled up


  1. I had no idea about the story behind the song Trevor. It really strikes home after reading the poem. Thanks for posting the poem and the link. Very moving!!!!

  2. Pleasure, and nice to meet you John Henry.
    Why do you have the blues?

  3. Just want to echo what John said - thanks for sharing the story