Marilyn Hacker

Paragraphs For Hayden

i.m. Hayden Carruth, 1921–2008


I’d want to talk to you about desire,
Hayden, the letter I could have written
on a subject you’d never tire
of turning in a glass, smitten
by a song, an argument, long sorrel hair,
profile of a glazed clay icon in the river,
while your knees needled and breathing
hurt, two packs a day bequeathing
what didn’t, in fact, kill you in the end.
Was it a distraction
from the inexorable fear, my friend,
its five AM gut-contraction?
But who, of your critics or cortège, pretends
that expense of spirit, lust in action,
didn’t earn you magnificent dividends?


The week they told me my genetic code
was flawed, I ricocheted, desire and fear
like sun and clouds, a moodswing
reason had no reason for
(but reason’s calibrated in the blood).
Terror. Tumescence. Cloudbursts. Solitude.
No diagnosis, no beloved: balance…
I write, not to you; to silence.
By anybody’s reckoning, now I’m “old,”
and you, an occasion instead
of an interlocutor. Aura of beaten gold
in a winter of cast lead.
Will the scale tip to the side of pleasure
when a taut cord plucked across the grid
invites, vibrates according to your measure?


A taut-tuned string asserts: the girl in green,
a six-year-old in an oversized sweatshirt
in Gaza City, on a computer-screen
video, not dead, not hurt
but furious. This is what they’ve done
to our house! Our clothes smell of gas! I never wore the sunglasses
my father gave me
or the earrings my grandmother gave me!
She tosses dark curls, speaks, a pasionaria
in front of a charred wall.
Arching her brows, she orchestrates her aria
with swift hands that rise and fall
while she forgets about fear
even as she ransacks the empty cradle
of its burnt blankets. That baby’s—where?


Not like “upstate,” our January freeze
still killed my window-box geraniums.
Beyond that ragged khaki frieze
of dead plants, Sunday hums
up to my windows. I count each of these
hours, respite, respite, from broken treaties
uprooted orchards, shattered concrete.
Eight years later, still on the street
eight years older, two women squabble
and survive improbably.
A dark-haired boy, pale, imperturbable
sits in front of Monoprix,
wrapped in blankets, stroking a silvery cat.
Your voice begins to slip away from me.
Life is like that. Death is like that.


A glass of red wine spills on the grammar book—
the pupil and the teacher gasp, then laugh.
Their voices branch into the baroque
logic of the paragraph.
Does the Brouilly birthmark presage luck
in learning elementary Arabic?
Their classroom desk is a kitchen table,
but the street outside is peaceful.
Schoolchildren with satchels weave among
shoppers, construction workers, dogs.
No one here is speaking their mother tongue:
perhaps several dialogues
are contradicting contrapuntally.
Two girls in hijab with computer bags
go hand in hand into the library.