Poised as a cruise ship, Maxine Kumin passes through the crowd, willowy and gray, someone's grandma by now but still lovely, and my mind goes straight to Anne Sexton- a sex pot in a coffin. Kumin says they shared one reading outfit down to the shoes. I see pointed pumps, smokey hose, and a sleeveless cocktail sheath shuttling between them, long phone calls between suburban kitchens to arrange who'd pick it up at the cleaners, who needed it next or who needed it most, as if success could be shared that simply, both of them knockouts at the podium and so often mixed up, Sexton joked "They can't tell the kook from the Jew!"
I need to believe they shared the readers' desire as easily as they shared their ambitions- how they read each new line to the other's breath on a Princess phone. Or their despair-how they shared babies and breakdowns as all our slim mothers did, stiff smiles and shifts captured in photographs, their bare arms like fish tangled across a dress's dark platter. I need to know how Kumin finally survived her own beauty, and how she keeps writing alone- how she finally stands here in defiance of anyone who'd concoct a cautionary tale of her life.