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  4. Days of 1994: Alexandrians by Marilyn Hacker
Days of 1994: Alexandrians

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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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Days of 1994: Alexandrians

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