Crepuscule with Muriel

Instead of a cup of tea, instead of a milk- 

silk whelk of a cup, of a cup of nearly six-

o’clock teatime, cup of a stumbling block,

cup of an afternoon unredeemed by talk,

cup of a cut brown loaf, of a slice, a lack

of butter, blueberry jam that’s almost black,

instead of tannin seeping into the cracks

of a pot, the void of an hour seeps out, infects

the slit of a cut I haven’t the wit to fix

with a surgeon’s needle threaded with fine-gauge silk

as a key would thread the cylinder of a lock.

But no key threads the cylinder of the lock.

Late afternoon light, transitory, licks

the place of the absent cup with its rough tongue, flicks

itself out beneath the wheel’s revolving spoke. 

Taut thought’s gone, with a blink of attention, slack,

a vision of “death and distance in the mix”

(she lost her words and how did she get them back 

when the corridor of a day was a lurching deck?

The dream-life logic encodes in nervous tics

she translated to a syntax which connects

intense and unfashionable politics

with morning coffee, Hudson sunsets, sex;

then the short-circuit of the final stroke,

the end toward which all lines looped out, then broke.)

What a gaze out the window interjects:

on the south-east corner, a black Lab balks

tugged as the light clicks green toward a late-day walk

by a plump brown girl in a purple anorak.

The Bronx-bound local comes rumbling up the tracks

out of the tunnel, over west Harlem blocks

whose windows gleam on the animal warmth of bricks

rouged by the fluvial light of six o’clock.

Reprinted from Desesperanto by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright© 2003 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Ghazal: The Beloved
Remembering Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Lines that grapple doubt, written because of the beloved :

when  grief subsides, what survives the loss of the beloved ?

Your every declaration is suspect.
That was, at least, the departing gloss of the beloved.

Were you a merely a servant of the state
or (now you give the coin a toss) of the beloved ?

How pure you were, resistant in an orchard.
Peace with justice : the cause of the beloved .

A scent of hyacinth clings to your fingers,
of sap from a broken leaf, of moss, of the beloved.

Ambiguous predators howl within earshot.
You would like to curl up between the paws of the beloved.

Now uniforms cite scripture to erase you.
Only rabble and vermin die under the laws of the Beloved.

Who signed the warrant that sealed you in this cell ?
Who read your messages ? Who was the boss of the beloved ?

How pure you were, how abject you are now,
waterboarded after the double-cross of the beloved.

You are promised release on the recognizance
(will this be a redemptive clause ?) of the beloved.

Reprinted from Names by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright © by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.



Grief walks miles beside the polluted river,

grief counts days sucked into the winter solstice,
grief receives exuberant schoolyard voices
as flung despisals.

It will always be the first of September.
There will be Dominican boys whose soccer
game provides an innocent conversation
for the two people

drinking coffee, coatless. There will be sunset
roselight on the river like a cathedral.
There will be a rusty, amusing tugboat
pushing a barge home.

Did she think she knew what her friend intended?
Did she think her brother rejoiced to see her?
Did she think she’d sleep one more time till sunrise
holding her lover?

Grief has got no brother, sister or lover.
Grief finds friendship elsewhere. Grief, in the darkened
hours and hours before light flicks in one window
holds grief, a mirror.

Brother? He was dead, in a war-drained city.
Grief was shelling peas, with cold water running
in the sink; a harpsichord trilled Corelli
until the phone rang.

And when grief came home from a post-op nightwatch
two small girls looked reticent over homework.
Half the closet, half the drawers were empty.
Who was gone this time ?

Grief is isolationist, short-viewed. Grief lacks
empathy, compassion, imagination;
reads accounts of massacres, floods and earthquakes
mired in one story.

Grief is individual, bourgeois, common
and banal, two women’s exchange in Sunday
market : “Le mari de Germaine est mort.” They
fill bags with apples.

Grief is primagravida, in her fifth month.
Now she knows the fetus has died inside her.
Now she crosses shopping-streets on a sun-shot
mid-winter morning.

Winter licks the marrow from streets that open
onto parks and boulevards, rivers, river-
parallel parkways, arteries to bridges,
interstates, airports.

Grief daubs kohl on middle-aged burning eyelids.
Grief drives miles not noticing if the highway
runs beside an ocean, abandoned buildings
or blackened wheatfields

—and, in fact, she’s indoors. Although her height is
average, massive furniture blocks and crowds her:
oak and pine, warm gold in their grain she thought would
ransom her season.

Workmen clear a path to repair the windows,
not with panes of light on their backs, no message-
bearers these. Still stubbornly green, a street leads
back to the river.

Fourteen years drained into the fifteen minutes
that it took a late-summer sun to douse its
light behind the opposite bank, the boys to
call their match over.

Reprinted from Desesperanto by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright ©2003 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.




Blood’s risks, its hollows, its flames
Exchanged for the pull of that song

Bone-colored road, bone-colored sky

Through the white days of the storm.
“Storm” by Claire Malroux 
Translated by Marilyn Hacker


Once out of the grip of desire,

or, if you prefer, its embrace,
free to do nothing more than admire
the sculptural planes of a face
(are you gay, straight or bi, are you queer ?)
you still tell your old chaplet of names
which were numinous once, you replace
them with adjectives : witty, severe,
trilingual ; abstracting blood’s claims,
blood’s risks, its hollows, its flames.

No craving, no yearning, no doubt,
no repulsion that follows release,
no presence you can’t do without,
no absence an hour can’t erase :
the conviction no reason could rout
of being essentially wrong
is dispelled. What feels oddly like peace
now fills space you had blathered about
where the nights were too short or too long,
exhanged for the pull of that song.

But peace requires more than one creature
released from the habit of craving
on a planet that’s mortgaged its future
to the lot who are plotting and raving.
There are rifts which no surgeon can suture
overhead, in the street, undersea.
The bleak plain from which you are waving,
mapped by no wise, benevolent teacher
is not a delight to the eye :
bone-colored road , bone-colored sky.

You know that the weather has changed,
yet do not know what to expect ,
with relevant figures expunged
and predictions at best incorrect.
Who knows on what line you’ll be ranged
and who, in what cause, you will harm ?
What cabal or junta or sect
has doctored the headlines, arranged
for perpetual cries of alarm
through the white days of the storm ?

Reprinted from Names by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright © 2009 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.




And I grew up in patterned tranquility
In the cool nursery of the new century.

And the voice of man was not dear to me,

But the voice of the wind I could understand.
Willow by Anna Akhmatova 
translated by Judith Hemschmeyer


A sibilant wind presaged a latish spring.

Bare birches leaned and whispered over the gravel path.
Only the river ever left. Still, someone would bring
back a new sailor middy to wear in the photograph
of the four of us. Sit still, stop fidgeting.
—Like the still-leafless trees with their facility
for lyric prologue and its gossipy aftermath.
I liked to make up stories. I liked to sing :
I was encouraged to cultivate that ability.
And I grew up in patterned tranquility.

In the single room, with a greasy stain like a scar
from the gas-fire’s fumes, when any guest might be a threat
(and any threat was a guest—from the past or the future)
at any hour of the night, I would put the tea things out
though there were scrap-leaves of tea, but no sugar,
or a lump or two of sugar but no tea. 
Two matches, a hoarded cigarette :
my day’s page ashed on its bier in a bed-sitter.
No godmother had presaged such white nights to me
in the cool nursery of the young century.

The human voice distorted itself in speeches,
a rhetoric that locked locks and ticked off losses.
Our words were bare as that stand of winter birches
while poetasters sugared the party bosses’
edicts (the only sugar they could purchase)
with servile metaphor and simile.
The effects were mortal, however complex the causes.
When they beat their child beyond this thin wall, his screeches,
wails and pleas were the gibberish of history,
and the voice of man was not dear to me.

Men and women, I mean. Those high-pitched voices—
how I wanted them to shut up. They sound too much
like me. Little machines for evading choices,
little animals, selling their minds for touch.
The young widow’s voice is just hers, as she memorizes
the words we read and burn, nights when we read and
burn with the words unsaid, hers and mine, as we watch
and are watched, and the river reflects what spies. Is
the winter trees’ rustling a code to the winter land ?

But the voice of the wind I could understand.

Reprinted from Names by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright © 2009 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.