Days of 1994: Alexandrians

By Marilyn Hacker b. 1942 Marilyn Hacker

for Edmund White

Lunch: as we close the twentieth century,   
death, like a hanger-on or a wanna-be
            sits with us at the cluttered bistro
            table, inflecting the conversation.

Elderly friends take lovers, rent studios,   
plan trips to unpronounceable provinces.   
            Fifty makes the ironic wager
            that his biographer will outlive him—

as may the erudite eighty-one-year-old
dandy with whom a squabble is simmering.   
            His green-eyed architect companion   
            died in the spring. He is frank about his

grief, as he savors spiced pumpkin soup, and a
sliced rare filet. We’ll see the next decade in
            or not. This one retains its flavor.
            “Her new book ...” “... brilliant!” “She slept with ...” “Really!

Long arabesques of silver-tipped sentences   
drift on the current of our two languages   
            into the mist of late September
            midafternoon, where the dusk is curling

Just thirty-eight: her last chemotherapy
treatment’s the same day classes begin again.
            I went through it a year before she
            started; but hers was both breasts, and lymph nodes.

She’s always been a lax vegetarian.
Now she has cut out butter and cheese, and she   
            never drank wine or beer. What else is   
            there to eliminate? Tea and coffee ... ?

(Our avocado salads are copious.)
It’s easier to talk about politics
            than to allow the terror that shares
            both of our bedrooms to find words. It made

the introduction; it’s an acquaintance we’ve   
in common. Trading medical anecdotes
            helps out when conversation lapses.
            We don’t discuss Mitterrand and cancer.

Four months (I say) I’ll see her, see him again.   
(I dream my life; I wake to contingencies.)
            Now I walk home along the river,
            into the wind, as the clouds break open.

Marilyn Hacker, “Days of 1994: Alexandrians” from Squares and Courtyards. Copyright © 2000 by Marilyn Hacker. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Squares and Courtyards (W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2000)

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Poet Marilyn Hacker b. 1942

Subjects Friends & Enemies, Living, Activities, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Eating & Drinking

Poetic Terms Syllabic

 Marilyn  Hacker


Marilyn Hacker is an award-winning poet best known for formal poems that mix high culture and colloquial speech. Over a career spanning forty years, Hacker has established herself as a preeminent voice in the tradition of Robert Lowell and Adrienne Rich. From her first book, the National Book Award winning Presentation Piece (1974), Hacker has defined the dimensions of a poetic universe that she continues to explore. The . . .

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SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Living, Activities, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Eating & Drinking

Poetic Terms Syllabic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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