After Anne Sexton


Some ghosts are my mothers
neither angry nor kind
their hair blooming from silk kerchiefs.
Not queens, but ghosts
who hum down the hall on their curved fins
sad as seahorses.

Not all ghosts are mothers.
I’ve counted them as I walk the beach.
Some are herons wearing the moonrise like lace.
Not lonely, but ghostly.
They stalk the low tide pools, flexing
their brassy beaks, their eyes.

But that isn’t all.
Some of my ghosts are planets.
Not bright. Not young.
Spiraling deep in the dusk of my body
as saucers or moons
pleased with their belts of colored dust
& hailing no others.


Copyright © 2017 by Kiki Petrosino. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem
“This poem is a line-by-line response to Anne Sexton’s 1962 poem of the same title. In that piece, Sexton contends with the bodied complexities of girl- and womanhood, reinterpreting ‘ghostliness’ to encompass the aftereffects of violence and trauma. In my poem, the speaker also experiences her own body as haunted or ghostly, but her phantoms are the children she never gives birth to; her ghost-self the mother she never becomes.”
—Kiki Petrosino