Nearly a Valediction, by Marilyn Hacker

You happened to me. I was happened to
like an abandoned building by a bull-
dozer, like the van that missed my skull
happened a two-inch gash across my chin.
You were as deep down as I’ve ever been.
You were inside me like my pulse. A new-
born flailing toward maternal heartbeat through
the shock of cold and glare: when you were gone,
swaddled in strange air I was that alone
again, inventing life left after you.

I don’t want to remember you as that
four o’clock in the morning eight months long
after you happened to me like a wrong
number at midnight that blew up the phone
bill to an astronomical unknown
quantity in a foreign currency.
The U.S. dollar dived since you happened to me.
You’ve grown into your skin since then; you’ve grown
into the space you measure with someone
you can love back without a caveat.

While I love somebody I learn to live
with through the downpulled winter days’ routine
wakings and sleepings, half-and-half caffeine-
assisted mornings, laundry, stock-pots, dust-
balls in the hallway, lists instead of longing, trust
that what comes next comes after what came first.
She’ll never be a story I make up.
You were the one I didn’t know where to stop.
If I had blamed you, now I could forgive

you, but what made my cold hand, back in prox-
imity to your hair, your mouth, your mind,
want where it no way ought to be, defined
by where it was, and was and was until
the whole globed swelling liquefied and spilled
through one cheek’s nap, a syllable, a tear,
was never blame, whatever I wished it were.
You were the weather in my neighborhood.
You were the epic in the episode.
You were the year poised on the equinox.

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Iva’s Pantoum, by Marilyn Hacker

We pace each other for a long time.
I packed my anger with the beef jerky.
You are the baby on the mountain. I am
in a cold stream where I led you.

I packed my anger with the beef jerky.
You are the woman sticking her tongue out
in a cold stream where I led you.
You are the woman with spring water palms.

You are the woman sticking her tongue out.
I am the woman who matches sounds.
You are the woman with spring water palms.
I am the woman who copies.

You are the woman who matches sounds.
You are the woman who makes up words.
You are the woman who copies
her cupped palm with her fist in clay.

I am the woman who makes up words.
You are the woman who shapes
a drinking bowl with her fist in clay.
I am the woman with rocks in her pockets.

I am the woman who shapes.
I was a baby who knew names.
You are the child with rocks in her pockets.
You are the girl in a plaid dress.

You are the woman who knows names.
You are the baby who could fly.
You are the girl in a plaid dress
upside-down on the monkey bars.

You are the baby who could fly
over the moon from a swinging perch
upside-down on the monkey bars.
You are the baby who eats meat.

Over the moon from a swinging perch
the feathery goblin calls her sister.
You are the baby who eats meat
the bitch wolf hunts and chews for you.

The feathery goblin calls her sister:
“You are braver than your mother.
The bitch wolf hunts and chews for you.
What are you whining about now?”

You are braver than your mother
and I am not a timid woman:
what are you whining about now?
My palms itch with slick anger,

and I’m not a timid woman.
You are the woman I can’t mention;
my palms itch with slick anger.
You are the heiress of scraped knees.

You are the woman I can’t mention
to a woman I want to love.
You are the heiress of scaped knees:
scrub them in mountain water.

To a woman, I want to love
women you could turn into,
scrub them in mountain water,
stroke their astonishing faces.

Women you could turn into
the scare mask of Bad Mother
stroke their astonishing faces
in the silver-scratched sink mirror.

The scare mask of Bad Mother
crumbles to chunked, pinched clay,
sinks in the silver-scratched mirror.
You are the Little Robber Girl, who

crumbles the clay chunks, pinches
her friend, givers her a sharp knife.
You are the Little Robber Girl, who
was any witch’s youngest daughter.

Our friend gives you a sharp knife,
shows how the useful blades open.
Was any witch’s youngest daughter
golden and bold as you? You run and

show how the useful blades open.
You are the baby on the mountain. I am
golden and bold as you. You run and
we pace each other for a long time.


More by Marilyn Hacker:
Headaches, by Marilyn Hacker — Wine again. The downside of any evening’s bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution : stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple’s site of bombardment. Tortured syntax, thorned thoughts, vocabulary like a forest littered with unexploded cluster bombs, no exit except explosion ripping the branches. Stacks of shadowed books on the bedside table wall a […]
Coda, by Marilyn Hacker — Maybe it was jet lag, maybe not, but I was smoking in the kitchen: six, barely, still dark: beyond the panes, a mix of summer storm and autumn wind. I got back to you; have I got you back? What warmed me wasn’t coffee, it was our revivified combustion. In an hour, gray morning, but […]

Others you might enjoy:
Vespers, by Louise Glück — In your extended absence, you permit me use of earth, anticipating some return on investment. I must report failure in my assignment, principally regarding the tomato plants. I think I should not be encouraged to grow tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold the heavy rains, the cold nights that come so often here, […]
Lessons from a Mirror, by Thylias Moss — Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on. Put me beside her and the proximity is good for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else. Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told what’s white and what isn’t. Judging […]
State’s Attorney Fallas, by Edgar Lee Masters — I, the scourge-wielder, balance-wrecker, Smiter with whips and swords; I, hater of the breakers of the law; I, legalist, inexorable and bitter, Driving the jury to hang the madman, Barry Holden, Was made as one dead by light too bright for eyes, And woke to face a Truth with bloody brow: Steel forceps fumbled by […]
Marble Hill, by Kazim Ali — Paradise lies beneath the feet of your mother. A verse I’ve heard recited so frequently I do not know if it is scripture or hadith. Hadith, meaning traditions of the prophet, are always accompanied by a careful oral lineage of who said what to whom, and who heard who say they heard what. Usually back to […]
Notes from the Other Side, by Jane Kenyon — I divested myself of despair and fear when I came here. Now there is no more catching one’s own eye in the mirror, there are no bad books, no plastic, no insurance premiums, and of course no illness. Contrition does not exist, nor gnashing of teeth. No one howls as the […]
Rime Riche, by Monica Ferrell — You need me like ice needs the mountain On which it breeds. Like print needs the page. You move in me like the tongue in a mouth, Like wind in the leaves of summer trees, Gust-fists, hollow except for movement and desire Which is movement. You taste me the way the claws Of a pigeon […]
Red Shoes, by Honor Moore — all that autumn you step from the train as if something were burning something is burning running across the green grass bare feet that day death was only what we lose in fall comes back in spring something is burning from the train you climb smoke between […]

Headaches, by Marilyn Hacker

Wine again. The downside of any evening’s
bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution :
stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple’s
site of bombardment.

Tortured syntax, thorned thoughts, vocabulary
like a forest littered with unexploded
cluster bombs, no exit except explosion
ripping the branches.

Stacks of shadowed books on the bedside table
wall a jar of Tiger Balm. You grope for its
glass netsuke hexagon. Tic stabs, dull pain
supercedes voices,

stills obsessive one-sided conversations.
Turn from mouths you never will kiss, a neck your
fingers will not trace to a golden shoulder.
Think of your elders —

If, in fact, they’d died, the interlocutors
who, alive, recede into incoherence,
you would write the elegy, feel clean grief, still
asking them questions

— though you know it’s you who’d provide the answers.
Auden’s Old People”s Home, Larkin’s The Old Fools
are what come to mind, not Yeats. In a not-so
distant past, someone

poured a glass of wine at three in the morning,
laid a foolscap pad on the kitchen table,
mind aspark from the long loquacious dinner
two hours behind her,

and you got a postcard (a Fifties jazz club)
next day across town, where she scrawled she’d found the
tail-end of a good Sancerre in the fridge and
finished the chapter.

Now she barely knows her friends when you visit.
Drill and mallet work on your forehead. Basta!
And it is Màrgaret you mourn for.. Get up,
go to the bathroom.

You take the drugs. Synapses buzz and click.
You turn the bed lamp on, open a book :
vasoconstrictor and barbiturate
make words in oval light reverberate.
The sky begins to pale at five o’clock.

Coda, by Marilyn Hacker

Maybe it was jet lag, maybe not,
but I was smoking in the kitchen: six,
barely, still dark: beyond the panes, a mix
of summer storm and autumn wind. I got
back to you; have I got you back? What
warmed me wasn’t coffee, it was our
revivified combustion. In an hour,
gray morning, but I’d gone back to my spot
beside you, sleeping, where we’d stayed awake
past exhaustion, talking, after, through
the weeks apart, divergent times and faces.
I fell asleep, skin to warm skin, at daybreak.
Your breasts, thighs, shoulders, mouth, voice, are the places
I live, whether or not I live with you.

Fog hid the road. The wipers shoved back torrents
across the windshield. You, on knife-edge, kept
driving. Iva, in the back seat, wept
histrionically. The crosscurrents
shivered like heat-lightning into the parent’s
shotgun seat. I shut up, inadept
at deflecting them. A Buick crept
ahead at twenty-five an hour. “Why aren’t
we passing him? My Coke spilled. The seat’s wet.
You guys keep whispering so I can’t hear.”
“Sit in the front with us, then.”
“No! I’ll get
too hot. Is the fan on? What time is it?
What time will it be when we get there?”
Time to be somewhere else than where we are.

“What do we have? I guess we still don’t know.”
I was afraid to say, you made me feel
my sectioned heart, quiescent loins, and spill
past boundaries the way blackberry-brambles grow
up those tenacious hills I left for you.
Their gritty fruit’s ripe now, but oceans still
separate us, waves opaque as oatmeal,
miles of fog roiling between your pillow
and mine while you say your best: sometimes, she’s where
your compass points, despite you, though a meal
with me, or talk, is good . . . Where our starfire
translated depths, low fog won’t let you steer
by sight. The needle fingers one desire,
and no other direction can compel.

If no other direction can compel
me upward from the dark-before-the-dawn
descending spiral, I drop like a stone
flung into some scummed-over stagnant well.
The same momentum with which once we fell
across each other’s skies, meteors drawn
by lodestones taproots clutched in unmapped ground
propels me toward some amphibious hell
where kissing’s finished, and I tell, tell, tell
reasons as thick and sticky as frogspawn:
had I done this, that wouldn’t have come undone.
The wolf of wolf’s hour cried at once too often
picks out enfeebled stragglers by the smell
of pond scum drying on them in the sun.

I miss you more than when I was in France
and thought I’d soon be done with missing you.
I miss what we’d have made past making do,
haft meshing weft as autumn days advance,
transliterating variegated strands
of silk, hemp, ribbon, flax, into some new
texture. I missed out on misconstrued
misgivings; did I miss my cue; boat? Chanc-
es are, the answer’s missing too. At risk
again, sleep and digestion, while I seize on
pricklier strands, crushed to exude the reason
I can’t expect you’ll ring up from your desk,
calling me Emer, like Cuchulain’s queen,
to say, we need bread and some salad greens.

On your birthday, I reread Meredith,
whose life’s mean truths inform, tonight, his text
so generously framed. There’ll be the next
night, and the next, cold gaps. I’d have been with
you now, lover and friend, across the width
of some candle-lit table as we mixed
habit and hope in toasts. Instead, perplexed
by separation like a monolith
bulked in the rooms and hours I thought would be
ours, I practice insensibility.
We crossed four miles, three thousand. You diminish
now, on a fogged horizon, far away.
Your twenty-fifth was our first class Tuesday
—will one year bracket us from start to finish?

Will one year bracket us from start to finish,
who, in an evening’s gallant banter, made
plans for new voyages to span decades
of love and work around a world we’d win? Wish
was overgrown with fears; voyages vanish
with empty wine bottles and summer’s paid
bills. Lengthens the legendary blade
between us: silence; hope I hope to banish;
doubt, till I almost doubt what happened, did.
Chicken from Zabar’s warms, and frozen spinach
simmers, while Iva writes a school essay:
“Both Sides: Everything has an opposite . . .”
sucking her inky fingers and her braid,
and I read Meredith, on your birthday.

“Why did Ray leave her pipe tobacco here
in the fridge?” Iva asks me while we’re
rummaging for mustard and soy sauce
to mix with wine and baste the lamb. “Because
cold keeps it fresh.” That isn’t what she means,

we both know. I’ve explained, there were no scenes
or fights, really. We needed time to clear
the air, and think. What she was asking, was,
“Why did Ray leave

her stuff if she’s not coming back?” She leans
to extremes, as I might well. String beans
to be sautéed with garlic; then I’ll toss
the salad; then we’ll eat. (Like menopause
it comes in flashes, more or less severe:
why did you leave?)

“Now that you know you can, the city’s full
of girls—just notice them! It’s not like pull-
ing teeth to flirt,” she said, “or make a date.”
It’s quite like pulling teeth to masturbate
(I didn’t say), and so I don’t. My nice

dreams are worse than nightmares. As my eyes
open, I know I am; that instant, feel
you with me, on me, in me, and you’re not.
Now that you know

you don’t know, fantasies are more like lies.
They don’t fit when I try them on for size.
I guess I can, but can’t imagine what
I’d do, with whom, tonight. It’s much too late
or soon, so what’s yours stays yours. It has until
now. That, you know.

Who would divorce her lover with a phone
call? You did. Like that, it’s finished, done—
or is for you. I’m left with closets of
grief (you moved out your things next day). I love
you. I want to make the phone call this
time, say, pack your axe, cab uptown, kiss
me, lots. I’ll run a bubble bath; we’ll sing
in the tub. We worked for love, loved it. Don’t sling
that out with Friday’s beer cans, or file-card it
in a drawer of anecdotes: “My Last
Six Girlfriends: How a Girl Acquires a Past.”
I’ve got “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted”
run on a loop, unwanted leitmotif.
Lust, light, love, life all tumbled into grief.
You closed us off like a parenthesis
and left me knowing just enough to miss.

“Anyone who (I did) ran down Broadway
screaming, or dropped in Bryant Park in a faint
similarly provoked, will sniff a taint
of self-aggrandizement in the assured way
you say: so be it; then she cut the cord; hey,
the young are like that. Put yourself on main-
tenance, stoically, without more complaint?
Grown-ups, at least, will not rush to applaud. They
won’t believe you.” And he downed his Negroni.
Who wants to know how loss and sorrow hit
me daily in the chest, how like a stone
this bread tastes? Even though lunch is on me,
he doesn’t. Home alone is home, alone.
(I’d reach for Nightwood, but she “borrowed” it.)

Did you love well what very soon you left?
Come home and take me in your arms and take
away this stomach ache, headache, heartache.
Never so full, I never was bereft
so utterly. The winter evenings drift
dark to the window. Not one word will make
you, where you are, turn in your day, or wake
from your night toward me. The only gift
I got to keep or give is what I’ve cried,
floodgates let down to mourning for the dead
chances, for the end of being young,
for everyone I loved who really died.
I drank our one year out in brine instead
of honey from the seasons of your tongue.