The Woman and the Idea of Trouble
You are the wall at my road’s end,
Open your gates, and let me through to God.
—Anna Wickham (1883–1947), “Prayer to Love”
In the day room a woman stupefied from masturbation.
Another flirted with Bonaparte. A third delivered nightly
a hundred babies and in the morning killed their mouths.
A painter, once a great beauty, had rubbed all her hair out.
The troublesome idea was that you were not so different.
You recognized them as fun-house distortions of your lust,
your love of power and of babies, your aspiration for art.
The quinine, delivered in a kind tonic, queried your head.
When your husband dragged you shouting from the garden
to the confines of the house, you put a fist in the glass door.
Your poem was a symptom of madness, as was your belief
that your husband, an astronomer, did not understand you.
Now you lived in a house that arranged its barred windows
for your pleasure. Your head had not one, but two doctors.
What you loved to do—singing and playing the piano—
you were encouraged to do because it was good for you.
You could have turned mad, but you spoke to the painter,
listening to her tell of a thwarted love for another woman.
You wrote to her brother about the sense she was making.
You rubbed her head with Harlene. The hair began to grow.
After you were discharged, as determined by another man,
you made up your mind to be your own woman, falling
in love with an American heiress, writing, writing, writing,
keeping house for struggling writers and painters and sons.
One evening, after the war, you looked through a window
and, thinking to open the French window, hanged yourself.
It was a troublesome idea that you were not so different.
Your son, the baby, denied it, who found you in the dark.
Most of the details, and some of the phrasing, are taken from Jennifer Vaughan Jones’s biography Anna Wickham: A Poet’s Daring Life.