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Best Famous Marilyn Hacker Poems

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Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem

Scars on Paper

 An unwrapped icon, too potent to touch,
she freed my breasts from the camp Empire dress.
Now one of them's the shadow of a breast with a lost object's half-life, with as much life as an anecdotal photograph: me, Kim and Iva, all stripped to the waist, hiking near Russian River on June first '79: Iva's five-and-a-half.
While she was almost twenty, wearing black T-shirts in D.
, where we hadn't met.
You lay your palm, my love, on my flat chest.
In lines alive with what is not regret, she takes her own path past, doesn't turn back.
Persistently, on paper, we exist.
Persistently, on paper, we exist.
You'd touch me if you could, but you're, in fact, three thousand miles away.
And my intact body is eighteen months paper: the past a fragile eighteen months regime of trust in slash-and-burn, in vitamin pills, backed by no statistics.
Each day I enact survivor's rituals, blessing the crust I tear from the warm loaf, blessing the hours in which I didn't or in which I did consider my own death.
I am not yet statistically a survivor (that is sixty months).
On paper, someone flowers and flares alive.
I knew her.
But she's dead.
She flares alive.
I knew her.
But she's dead.
I flirted with her, might have been her friend, but transatlantic schedules intervened.
She wrote a book about her Freedom Ride, the wary elders whom she taught to read, — herself half-British, twenty-six, white-blonde, with thirty years to live.
And I happened to open up The Nation to that bad news which I otherwise might not have known (not breast cancer: cancer of the brain).
Words take the absent friend away again.
Alone, I think, she called, alone, upon her courage, tried in ways she'd not have wished by pain and fear: her courage, extinguished.
The pain and fear some courage extinguished at disaster's denouement come back daily, banal: is that brownish-black mole the next chapter? Was the ache enmeshed between my chest and armpit when I washed rogue cells' new claw, or just a muscle ache? I'm not yet desperate enough to take comfort in being predeceased: the anguish when the Harlem doctor, the Jewish dancer, die of AIDS, the Boston seminary's dean succumbs "after brief illness" to cancer.
I like mossed slabs in country cemeteries with wide-paced dates, candles in jars, whose tallow glows on summer evenings, desk-lamp yellow.
Aglow in summer evening, a desk-lamp's yellow moonlight peruses notebooks, houseplants, texts, while an aging woman thinks of sex in the present tense.
Desire may follow, urgent or elegant, cut raw or mellow with wine and ripe black figs: a proof, the next course, a simple question, the complex response, a burning sweetness she will swallow.
The opening mind is sexual and ready to embrace, incarnate in its prime.
Rippling concentrically from summer's gold disc, desire's iris expands, steady with blood beat.
Each time implies the next time.
The aging woman hopes she will grow old.
The aging woman hopes she will grow old.
A younger woman has a dazzling vision of bleeding wrists, her own, the clean incisions suddenly there, two open mouths.
They told their speechless secrets, witnesses not called to what occurred with as little volition of hers as these phantom wounds.
Intense precision of scars, in flesh, in spirit.
I'm enrolled by mine in ranks where now I'm "being brave" if I take off my shirt in a hot crowd sunbathing, or demonstrating for Dyke Pride.
Her bravery counters the kitchen knives' insinuation that the scars be made.
With, or despite our scars, we stay alive.
"With, or despite our scars, we stayed alive until the Contras or the Government or rebel troops came, until we were sent to 'relocation camps' until the archives burned, until we dug the ditch, the grave beside the aspen grove where adolescent boys used to cut class, until we went to the precinct house, eager to behave like citizens.
" I count my hours and days, finger for luck the word-scarred table which is not my witness, shares all innocent objects' silence: a tin plate, a basement door, a spade, barbed wire, a ring of keys, an unwrapped icon, too potent to touch.

Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem

The Boy

 It is the boy in me who's looking out
the window, while someone across the street
mends a pillowcase, clouds shift, the gutter spout
pours rain, someone else lights a cigarette?

(Because he flinched, because he didn't whirl
around, face them, because he didn't hurl
the challenge back—"Fascists?"—not "Faggots"—Swine!
he briefly wonders—if he were a girl .
) He writes a line.
He crosses out a line.
I'll never be a man, but there's a boy crossing out words: the rain, the linen-mender, are all the homework he will do today.
The absence and the priviledge of gender confound in him, soprano, clumsy, frail.
Not neuter—neutral human, and unmarked, the younger brother in the fairy tale except, boys shouted "Jew!" across the park at him when he was coming home from school.
The book that he just read, about the war, the partisans, is less a terrible and thrilling story, more a warning, more a code, and he must puzzle out the code.
He has short hair, a red sweatshirt.
They know something about him—that he should be proud of? That's shameful if it shows? That got you killed in 1942.
In his story, do the partisans have sons? Have grandparents? Is he a Jew more than he is a boy, who'll be a man someday? Someone who'll never be a man looks out the window at the rain he thought might stop.
He reads the sentence he began.
He writes down something that he crosses out.
Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem

Morning News

 Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread
and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches,
repeats old news: arrogance, ignorance, war.
A cinder-block wall shared by two houses is new rubble.
On one side was a kitchen sink and a cupboard, on the other was a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs.
Glass is shattered across the photographs; two half-circles of hardened pocket bread sit on the cupboard.
There provisionally was shelter, a plastic truck under the branches of a fig tree.
A knife flashed in the kitchen, merely dicing garlic.
Engines of war move inexorably toward certain houses while citizens sit safe in other houses reading the newspaper, whose photographs make sanitized excuses for the war.
There are innumerable kinds of bread brought up from bakeries, baked in the kitchen: the date, the latitude, tell which one was dropped by a child beneath the bloodied branches.
The uncontrolled and multifurcate branches of possibility infiltrate houses' walls, windowframes, ceilings.
Where there was a tower, a town: ash and burnt wires, a graph on a distant computer screen.
Elsewhere, a kitchen table's setting gapes, where children bred to branch into new lives were culled for war.
Who wore this starched smocked cotton dress? Who wore this jersey blazoned for the local branch of the district soccer team? Who left this black bread and this flat gold bread in their abandoned houses? Whose father begged for mercy in the kitchen? Whose memory will frame the photograph and use the memory for what it was never meant for by this girl, that old man, who was caught on a ball field, near a window: war, exhorted through the grief a photograph revives.
(Or was the team a covert branch of a banned group; were maps drawn in the kitchen, a bomb thrust in a hollowed loaf of bread?) What did the old men pray for in their houses of prayer, the teachers teach in schoolhouses between blackouts and blasts, when each word was flensed by new censure, books exchanged for bread, both hostage to the happenstance of war? Sometimes the only schoolroom is a kitchen.
Outside the window, black strokes on a graph of broken glass, birds line up on bare branches.
"This letter curves, this one spreads its branches like friends holding hands outside their houses.
" Was the lesson stopped by gunfire? Was there panic, silence? Does a torn photograph still gather children in the teacher's kitchen? Are they there meticulously learning war- time lessons with the signs for house, book, bread?
Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem

Ivas Pantoum

 We pace each other for a long time.
I packed my anger with the beef jerky.
You are the baby on the mountain.
I am in a cold stream where I led you.
I packed my anger with the beef jerky.
You are the woman sticking her tongue out in a cold stream where I led you.
You are the woman with spring water palms.
You are the woman sticking her tongue out.
I am the woman who matches sounds.
You are the woman with spring water palms.
I am the woman who copies.
You are the woman who matches sounds.
You are the woman who makes up words.
You are the woman who copies her cupped palm with her fist in clay.
I am the woman who makes up words.
You are the woman who shapes a drinking bowl with her fist in clay.
I am the woman with rocks in her pockets.
I am the woman who shapes.
I was a baby who knew names.
You are the child with rocks in her pockets.
You are the girl in a plaid dress.
You are the woman who knows names.
You are the baby who could fly.
You are the girl in a plaid dress upside-down on the monkey bars.
You are the baby who could fly over the moon from a swinging perch upside-down on the monkey bars.
You are the baby who eats meat.
Over the moon from a swinging perch the feathery goblin calls her sister.
You are the baby who eats meat the ***** wolf hunts and chews for you.
The feathery goblin calls her sister: "You are braver than your mother.
The ***** wolf hunts and chews for you.
What are you whining about now?" You are braver than your mother and I am not a timid woman: what are you whining about now? My palms itch with slick anger, and I'm not a timid woman.
You are the woman I can't mention; my palms itch with slick anger.
You are the heiress of scraped knees.
You are the woman I can't mention to a woman I want to love.
You are the heiress of scaped knees: scrub them in mountain water.
To a woman, I want to love women you could turn into, scrub them in mountain water, stroke their astonishing faces.
Women you could turn into the scare mask of Bad Mother stroke their astonishing faces in the silver-scratched sink mirror.
The scare mask of Bad Mother crumbles to chunked, pinched clay, sinks in the silver-scratched mirror.
You are the Little Robber Girl, who crumbles the clay chunks, pinches her friend, givers her a sharp knife.
You are the Little Robber Girl, who was any witch's youngest daughter.
Our friend gives you a sharp knife, shows how the useful blades open.
Was any witch's youngest daughter golden and bold as you? You run and show how the useful blades open.
You are the baby on the mountain.
I am golden and bold as you.
You run and we pace each other for a long time.
Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem


 After Joseph Roth

Parce que c'était lui; parce que c'était moi.
Montaigne, De L'amitië The dream's forfeit was a night in jail and now the slant light is crepuscular.
Papers or not, you are a foreigner whose name is always difficult to spell.
You pack your one valise.
You ring the bell.
Might it not be prudent to disappear beneath that mauve-blue sky above the square fronting your cosmopolitan hotel? You know two short-cuts to the train station which could get you there, on foot, in time.
The person who's apprised of your intention and seems to be your traveling companion is merely the detritus of a dream.
You cross the lobby and go out alone.
You crossed the lobby and went out alone through the square, where two red-headed girls played hopscotch on a chalk grid, now in the shade, of a broad-leafed plane tree, now in the sun.
The lively, lovely, widowed afternoon disarmed, uncoupled, shuffled and disarrayed itself; despite itself, dismayed you with your certainties, your visa, gone from your breast-pocket, or perhaps expired.
At the reception desk, no one inquired if you'd be returning.
Now you wonder why.
When the stout conductor comes down the aisle mustached, red-faced, at first jovial, and asks for your passport, what will you say? When they ask for your passport, will you say that town's name they'd find unpronounceable which resonates, when uttered, like a bell in your mind's tower, as it did the day you carried your green schoolbag down the gray fog-cobbled street, past church, bakery, shul past farm women setting up market stalls it was so early.
"I am on my way to school in .
" You were part of the town now, not the furnished rooms you shared with Mutti, since the others disappeared.
Your knees were red with cold; your itchy wool socks had inched down, so you stooped to pull them up, a student and a citizen.
You are a student and a citizen of whatever state is transient.
You are no more or less the resident of a hotel than you were of that town whose borders were disputed and redrawn.
A prince conceded to a president.
Another language became relevant to merchants on that street a child walked down whom you remember, in the corridors of cities you inhabit, polyglot as the distinguished scholar you were not to be.
A slight accent sets you apart, but it would mark you on that peddlers'-cart street now.
Which language, after all, is yours? Which language, after all these streets, is yours, and why are you here, waiting for a train? You could have run a hot bath, read Montaigne.
But would footsteps beyond the bathroom door's bolt have disturbed the nondescript interior's familiarity, shadowed the plain blue draperies? You reflect, you know no one who would, of you, echo your author's "Because it was he; because it was I," as a unique friendship's non sequitur.
No footsteps and no friend: that makes you free.
The train approaches, wreathed in smoke like fur around the shoulders of a dowager with no time for sentimentality.
With no time for sentimentality, mulling a twice-postponed book-review, you take an empty seat.
Opposite you a voluble immigrant family is already unwrapping garlicky sausages—an unshaven man and his two red-eared sons.
You once wrote: it is true, awful, and unimportant, finally that if the opportunity occurs some of the exiles become storm-troopers; and you try, culpably, to project these three into some torch-lit future, filtering out their wrangling (one of your languages) about the next canto in their short odyssey.
The next canto in your short odyssey will open, you know this, in yet another hotel room.
They have become your mother country: benevolent anonymity of rough starched sheets, dim lamp, rickety escritoire, one window.
Your neighbors gather up their crusts and rinds.
Out of a leather satchel, the man takes their frayed identity cards, examines them.
The sons watch, pale and less talkative.
A border, passport control, draw near: rubber stamp or interrogation? You hope the customs officer lunched well; reflect on the recurrent implication of the dream's forfeit.
One night in jail?

Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem

Years End

 for Audre Lorde and Sonny Wainwright

Twice in my quickly disappearing forties
someone called while someone I loved and I were
making love to tell me another woman had died of cancer.
Seven years apart, and two different lovers: underneath the numbers, how lives are braided, how those women's death and lives, lived and died, were interleaved also.
Does lip touch on lip a memento mori? Does the blood-thrust nipple against its eager mate recall, through lust, a breast's transformations sometimes are lethal? Now or later, what's the enormous difference? If one day is good, is a day sufficient? Is it fear of death with which I'm so eager to live my life out now and in its possible permutations with the one I love? (Only four days later, she was on a plane headed west across the Atlantic, work-bound.
) Men and women, mortally wounded where we love and nourish, dying at thirty, forty, fifty, not on barricades, but in beds of unfulfilled promise: tell me, senators, what you call abnormal? Each day's obits read as if there's a war on.
Fifty-eight-year-old poet dead of cancer: warrior woman laid down with the other warrior women.
Both times when the telephone rang, I answered, wanting not to, knowing I had to answer, go from two bodies' infinite approach to a crest of pleasure through the disembodied voice from a distance saying one loved body was clay, one wave of mind burst and broken.
Each time we went back to each other's hands and mouths as to a requiem where the chorus sings death with irrelevant and amazing bodily music.
Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem


 This is for Elsa, also known as Liz,
an ample-bosomed gospel singer: five
discrete malignancies in one full breast.
This is for auburn Jacqueline, who is celebrating fifty years alive, one since she finished chemotherapy.
with fireworks on the fifteenth of July.
This is for June, whose words are lean and mean as she is, elucidating our protest.
This is for Lucille, who shines a wide beam for us with her dark cadences.
This is for long-limbed Maxine, astride a horse like conscience.
This is for Aline who taught her lover how to caress the scar.
This is for Eve, who thought of AZT while hopeful poisons pumped into a vein.
This is for Nanette in the Midwest.
This is for Alicia, shaking back dark hair, dancing one-breasted with the Sabbath bride.
This is for Judy on a mountainside, plunging her gloved hands in a glistening hive.
Hilda, Patricia, Gaylord, Emilienne, Tania, Eunice: this is for everyone who marks the distance on a calendar from what's less likely each year to "recur.
" Our saved-for-now lives are life sentences -- which we prefer to the alternative.
Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem

Nearly A Valediction

 You happened to me.
I was happened to like an abandoned building by a bull- dozer, like the van that missed my skull happened a two-inch gash across my chin.
You were as deep down as I've ever been.
You were inside me like my pulse.
A new- born flailing toward maternal heartbeat through the shock of cold and glare: when you were gone, swaddled in strange air I was that alone again, inventing life left after you.
I don't want to remember you as that four o'clock in the morning eight months long after you happened to me like a wrong number at midnight that blew up the phone bill to an astronomical unknown quantity in a foreign currency.
The U.
dollar dived since you happened to me.
You've grown into your skin since then; you've grown into the space you measure with someone you can love back without a caveat.
While I love somebody I learn to live with through the downpulled winter days' routine wakings and sleepings, half-and-half caffeine- assisted mornings, laundry, stock-pots, dust- balls in the hallway, lists instead of longing, trust that what comes next comes after what came first.
She'll never be a story I make up.
You were the one I didn't know where to stop.
If I had blamed you, now I could forgive you, but what made my cold hand, back in prox- imity to your hair, your mouth, your mind, want where it no way ought to be, defined by where it was, and was and was until the whole globed swelling liquefied and spilled through one cheek's nap, a syllable, a tear, was never blame, whatever I wished it were.
You were the weather in my neighborhood.
You were the epic in the episode.
You were the year poised on the equinox.
Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem

Rune of the Finland Woman

 For Sára Karig

"You are so wise," the reindeer said, "you can bind the winds of the world in a single strand.
Andersen, "The Snow Queen" She could bind the world's winds in a single strand.
She could find the world's words in a singing wind.
She could lend a weird will to a mottled hand.
She could wind a willed word from a muddled mind.
She could wend the wild woods on a saddled hind.
She could sound a wellspring with a rowan wand.
She could bind the wolf's wounds in a swaddling band.
She could bind a banned book in a silken skin.
She could spend a world war on invaded land.
She could pound the dry roots to a kind of bread.
She could feed a road gang on invented food.
She could find the spare parts of the severed dead.
She could find the stone limbs in a waste of sand.
She could stand the pit cold with a withered lung.
She could handle bad puns in the slang she learned.
She could dandle foundlings in their mother tongue.
She could plait a child's hair with a fishbone comb.
She could tend a coal fire in the Arctic wind.
She could mend an engine with a sewing pin.
She could warm the dark feet of a dying man.
She could drink the stone soup from a doubtful well.
She could breathe the green stink of a trench latrine.
She could drink a queen's share of important wine.
She could think a few things she would never tell.
She could learn the hand code of the deaf and blind.
She could earn the iron keys of the frozen queen.
She could wander uphill with a drunken friend.
She could bind the world's winds in a single strand.
Written by Marilyn Hacker | Create an image from this poem


 Her brown falcon perches above the sink
as steaming water forks over my hands.
Below the wrists they shrivel and turn pink.
I am in exile in my own land.
Her half-grown cats scuffle across the floor trailing a slime of blood from where they fed.
I lock the door.
They claw under the door.
I am an exile in my own bed.
Her spotted mongrel, bristling with red mange, sleeps on the threshold of the Third Street bar where I drink brandy as the couples change.
I am in exile where my neighbors are.
On the pavement, cans of ashes burn.
Her green lizard scuttles from the light around torn cardboard charred to glowing fern.
I am in exile in my own sight.
Her blond child sits on the stoop when I come back at night.
Cold hands, blue lids; we both need sleep.
She tells me she is going to die.
I am in exile in my own youth.
Lady of distances, this fire, this water, this earth makes sanctuary where I stand.
Call of your animals and your blond daughter, I am in exile in my own hands.