LIVE (from: Androgynous)


Program Note

18 songs for soprano + violin + violoncello + piano/keyboard
based on the poem Live or die by Anne Sexton

Live or die, but don’t poison everything… 

Well, death’s been here 
for a long time – 
it has a hell of a lot 
to do with hell 
and suspicion of the eye 
and the religious objects 
and how I mourned them 
when they were made obscene 
by my dwarf-heart’s doodle. 
The chief ingredient 
is mutilation. 
And mud, day after day, 
mud like a ritual, 
and the baby on the platter, 
cooked but still human, 
cooked also with little maggots, 
sewn onto it maybe by somebody’s mother, 
the damn bitch! 

Even so, 
I kept right on going on, 
a sort of human statement, 
lugging myself as if 
I were a sawed-off body 
in the trunk, the steamer trunk. 
This became perjury of the soul. 
It became an outright lie 
and even though I dressed the body 
it was still naked, still killed. 
It was caught 
in the first place at birth, 
like a fish. 
But I play it, dressed it up, 
dressed it up like somebody’s doll. 

Is life something you play? 
And all the time wanting to get rid of it? 
And further, everyone yelling at you 
to shut up. And no wonder! 
People don’t like to be told 
that you’re sick 
and then be forced 
to watch 
down with the hammer. 

Today life opened inside me like an egg 
and there inside 
after considerable digging 
I found the answer. 
What a bargain! 
There was the sun, 
her yolk moving feverishly, 
tumbling her prize – 
and you realize she does this daily! 
I’d known she was a purifier 
but I hadn’t thought 
she was solid, 
hadn’t known she was an answer. 
God! It’s a dream, 
lovers sprouting in the yard 
like celery stalks 
and better, 
a husband straight as a redwood, 
two daughters, two sea urchings, 
picking roses off my hackles. 
If I’m on fire they dance around it 
and cook marshmallows. 
And if I’m ice 
they simply skate on me 
in little ballet costumes. 

all along, 
thinking I was a killer, 
anointing myself daily 
with my little poisons. 
But no. 
I’m an empress. 
I wear an apron. 
My typewriter writes. 
It didn’t break the way it warned. 
Even crazy, I’m as nice 
as a chocolate bar. 
Even with the witches’ gymnastics 
they trust my incalculable city, 
my corruptible bed. 

O dearest three, 
I make a soft reply. 
The witch comes on 
and you paint her pink. 
I come with kisses in my hood 
and the sun, the smart one, 
rolling in my arms. 
So I say Live 
and turn my shadow three times round 
to feed our puppies as they come, 
the eight Dalmatians we didn’t drown, 
despite the warnings: The abort! The destroy! 
Despite the pails of water that waited, 
to drown them, to pull them down like stones, 
they came, each one headfirst, blowing bubbles the color of cataract-blue 
and fumbling for the tiny tits. 
Just last week, eight Dalmatians, 
3/4 of a lb., lined up like cord wood 
like a 
birch tree. 
I promise to love more if they come, 
because in spite of cruelty 
and the stuffed railroad cars for the ovens, 
I am not what I expected. Not an Eichmann. 
The poison just didn’t take. 
So I won’t hang around in my hospital shift, 
repeating The Black Mass and all of it. 
I say Live, Live because of the sun, 
the dream, the excitable gift.  Anne Sexton, Live or die, 1966

About Helmut Oehring

The composer, director, choreographer and author Helmut Oehring was born in 1961 in East Berlin. As hearing child of deafmute parents he considers German sign language his mother tongue, as…