The Ghost in the Martini

By Anthony Hecht 1923–2004 Anthony Hecht
Over the rim of the glass   
Containing a good martini with a twist   
I eye her bosom and consider a pass,
               Certain we’d not be missed

               In the general hubbub.
Her lips, which I forgot to say, are superb,   
Never stop babbling once (Aye, there’s the rub)   
               But who would want to curb

               Such delicious, artful flattery?
It seems she adores my work, the distinguished grey
Of my hair. I muse on the salt and battery   
               Of the sexual clinch, and say

               Something terse and gruff
About the marked disparity in our ages.
She looks like twenty-three, though eager enough.   
               As for the famous wages

               Of sin, she can’t have attained
Even to union scale, though you never can tell.   
Her waist is slender and suggestively chained,   
               And things are going well.

               The martini does its job,
God bless it, seeping down to the dark old id.   
(“Is there no cradle, Sir, you would not rob?”   
               Says ego, but the lid

               Is off. The word is Strike
While the iron’s hot.) And now, ingenuous and gay,
She is asking me about what I was like
               At twenty. (Twenty, eh?)

               You wouldn’t have liked me then,   
I answer, looking carefully into her eyes.
I was shy, withdrawn, awkward, one of those men
               That girls seemed to despise,

               Moody and self-obsessed,
Unhappy, defiant, with guilty dreams galore,   
Full of ill-natured pride, an unconfessed   
               Snob and a thorough bore.

               Her smile is meant to convey
How changed or modest I am, I can’t tell which,   
When I suddenly hear someone close to me say,   
               “You lousy son-of-a-bitch!”

               A young man’s voice, by the sound,   
Coming, it seems, from the twist in the martini.   
“You arrogant, elderly letch, you broken-down
               Brother of Apeneck Sweeney!

               Thought I was buried for good
Under six thick feet of mindless self-regard?   
Dance on my grave, would you, you galliard stud,   
               Silenus in leotard?

               Well, summon me you did,
And I come unwillingly, like Samuel’s ghost.   
‘All things shall be revealed that have been hid.’
               There’s something for you to toast!

               You only got where you are
By standing upon my ectoplasmic shoulders,   
And wherever that is may not be so high or far   
               In the eyes of some beholders.

               Take, for example, me.
I have sat alone in the dark, accomplishing little,   
And worth no more to myself, in pride and fee,   
               Than a cup of luke-warm spittle.

               But honest about it, withal . . .”   
(“Withal,” forsooth!) “Please not to interrupt.   
And the lovelies went by, ‘the long and the short and the tall,’
               Hankered for, but untupped.

               Bloody monastic it was.
A neurotic mixture of self-denial and fear;   
The verse halting, the cataleptic pause,   
               No sensible pain, no tear,

               But an interior drip
As from an ulcer, where, in the humid deep   
Center of myself, I would scratch and grip   
               The wet walls of the keep,

               Or lie on my back and smell
From the corners the sharp, ammoniac, urine stink.
‘No light, but rather darkness visible.’
               And plenty of time to think.

               In that thick, fetid air
I talked to myself in giddy recitative:
‘I have been studying how I may compare   
               This prison where I live

               Unto the world . . .’ I learned   
Little, and was awarded no degrees.   
Yet all that sunken hideousness earned
               Your negligence and ease.

               Nor was it wholly sick,
Having procured you a certain modest fame;   
A devotion, rather, a grim device to stick   
               To something I could not name.”

               Meanwhile, she babbles on
About men, or whatever, and the juniper juice   
Shuts up at last, having sung, I trust, like a swan.   
               Still given to self-abuse!

               Better get out of here;
If he opens his trap again it could get much worse.   
I touch her elbow, and, leaning toward her ear,   
               Tell her to find her purse.

Anthony Hecht, “The Ghost in the Martini” from Collected Earlier Poems. Copyright © 1990 by Anthony Hecht. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: Collected Earlier Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Anthony Hecht 1923–2004

Subjects Growing Old, Activities, Love, Living, Midlife, Relationships, Eating & Drinking, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Anthony  Hecht


One of the leading voices of his generation, Anthony Hecht’s poetry is known for its masterful use of traditional forms and linguistic control. Extraordinarily erudite, Hecht’s verse often features allusions to French literature, Greek myth and tragedy, and English poets and poetry stretching from Wallace Stevens to John Donne. Hecht, who died in 2004, was often described as a “traditionalist.” George P. Elliott contended in the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Growing Old, Activities, Love, Living, Midlife, Relationships, Eating & Drinking, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.