Marilyn Hacker, “Days of 1994: Alexandrians”

This week’s poem comes to us from Marilyn Hacker’s 2000 collection Squares and Courtyards (W.W. Norton & Co.), winner of the Publishing Triangle’s 2001 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry.


++++++++++++++++++++ for Edmund White

Lunch: as we close the twentieth century,
death, like a hanger-on or a wannabe
___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
___mid-afternoon, 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 is the author of 13 books of poetry, including Names (Norton 2009) and Desesperanto (Norton 2003). Maxine Kumin says of Hacker’s Winter Numbers, “This stunning book critiques our life and times—AIDS, the Holocaust, breast cancer, civil wars—with an unparalleled lyric candor. The tone is elegiac; the thrust is life-affirming.”

“Days of 1994: Alexandrians” from SQUARES AND COURTYARDS by Marilyn Hacker. Copyright © 2000 by Marilyn Hacker.  Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.