"Rowing" is the first song of David Conte's song cycle Sexton Songs. The cycle is for soprano and piano or chamber ensemble and sets the poetry of Anne Sexton.


The audio selection in the player to the right features Marnie Breckenridge, soprano, and Ensemble Parallele with Nicole Paiement, conductor. Used with the permission of the composer. To listen, please click on the track name itself.

by Anne Sexton

A story, a story!
\t\t(Let it go. Let it come.)
\t\tI was stamped out like a Plymouth fender
\t\tinto this world.
\t\tFirst came the crib
\t\twith its glacial bars.
\t\tThen dolls
\t\tand the devotion to their plastic mouths.
\t\tThen there was school,
\t\tthe little straight rows of chairs,
\t\tblotting my name over and over,
\t\tbut undersea all the time,
\t\ta stranger whose elbows wouldn't work.
\t\tThen there was life
\t\twith its cruel houses
\t\tand people who seldom touched -
\t\tthough touch is all -
\t\tbut I grew,
\t\tlike a pig in a trench coat I grew,
\t\tand then there were many strange apparitions,
\t\tthe nagging rain, the sun turning into poison
\t\tand all of that, saws working through my heart,
\t\tbut I grew, I grew,
\t\tand God was there like an island I had not rowed to,
\t\tstill ignorant of Him, my arms and my legs worked,
\t\tand I grew, I grew,
\t\tI wore rubies and bought tomatoes
\t\tand now, in my middle age,
\t\tabout nineteen in the head I'd say,
\t\tI am rowing, I am rowing
\t\tthough the oarlocks stick and are rusty
\t\tand the sea links and rolls
\t\tlike a worried eyeball,
\t\tbut I am rowing, I am rowing,
\t\tthough the wind pushes me back
\t\tand I know that the island will not be perfect,
\t\tit will have the flaws of life,
\t\tthe absurdities of the dinner table,
\t\tbut there will be a door,
\t\tand I will open it,
\t\tand I will get rid of the rat inside of me,
\t\tthe gnawing pestilential rat.
\t\tGod will take it with his two hands
\t\tand embrace it.
\t\tAs the African says:
\t\tThis is my tale which I have told.
\t\tIf it be sweet, if it be not sweet,
\t\tTake somewhere else,
\t\tand let some return to me.
\t\tThis story ends with me still rowing.

Audio PLaylist