from Paragraphs from a Day-Book (section 1 only)

By Marilyn Hacker b. 1942 Marilyn Hacker

For Hayden Carruth

Thought thrusts up, homely as a hyacinth   
wrapped in its bulb like a root-vegetable,   
a ninth-month   
belly, where the green indelible   
pattern's inscribed into the labyrinth.   
Thrust into light, it's air's inhabitant   
with light and air as food and drink.   
A hyacinth, tumescent pink   
on the low wooden Mexican chest   
confronts the wintry dusk   
with informed self-interest.   
Leaf-spears extravagantly ask   
what idea, still gnarled up in a knot   
of ganglions, will break through the husk   
shaped at last, recognizable as thought.   

Trace, on a city map, trajectories   
of partially-forgotten words   
along the river's arteries,   
volatile substance of a sentient world.   
Mauve heather crowds the window-grill. The light   
lingers a little later, with a slight   
vernal inflection. In a moon-glazed vase   
bloom yellow freesias, like some rainy day's   
brook-bank, in someone else's memory.   
Small whirlpools of perception widen, ring   
an infant's numinous discoveries   
of syllables for animals, toys, trees:   
a Lab's thick coat, the dusty birds   
in Claremont Park each tardy urban spring,   
a stuffed pink leather horse with button eyes.   

A question-mark in yellow overalls,   
I could read. I was three.   
I slept with that pink horse. My one doll's   
name was V. J. She'd been given to me   
to celebrate the Victory   
over Japan, that is to say, the Bomb   
I'd spend my schooldays taking shelter from.   
I couldn't tie my shoes. But Reddy the fox,   
Tootle the engine who jumped off the tracks,   
spelled me their stories on my mother's lap   
despite weak eyes and poor small-motor skills.   
My grandparents were dead: not in pogroms,   
not in the camps—of strokes and heart attacks,   
merely immigrants, not deportees.   
"When you die, does everything just stop?"   

I'm four, in itchy woolen leggings,   
the day that I can't recognize the man   
down at the park entrance, waving,   
as my father. He has ten   
more years to live, that spring. Dapper and balding   
he walks toward me; then I run toward him, calling   
him, flustered by my flawed vision.   
Underfoot, the maples' green-   
winged seeds splay on mica-specked octagons.   
His round face, thin nose, moustache silvered gray   
at thirty-eight look (I think now) Hungarian.   
I like his wood-smell of two packs a day   
as he swings me up to his shoulder   
and I say, things look blurry far away   
—one Saturday, two years after the war.

Source: Poetry (October 1999).


This poem originally appeared in the October 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

 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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