Calligraphies VI

Marilyn Hacker

After disaster
(again) in her small skylit
sublet, N. simmerslentils while she reads a long
book about Ibn Arabi.In prison they made
chess pieces out of stale bread.
She taught the womento play. Their first champion was
an apolitical thief.                            *Political grief,
apolitical despair,
or it’s vice versa—either way, insomnia.
Rapping on the neighbours’ door,three in the morning—
no, it’s seven, and still dark.
One of the roommatesnext door home from a night I’m
too tired out to imagine.                            *Imagine language
after opaque years
become transparent…since the hour needs witnesses
who can construct a sentence.Which was my country?
A schism in the nation,
slogans on bannerswhile a compromised future
slouches towards investiture.                            *Towards light again, when
wet snow is falling on the
January sales.The chestnut stairs gleam, but
I’m short of breath, knees give way.My ideal reader
doesn’t read English, and I’ve
stalled in her language—or his—while he/she stares at
an impassable border.                            *Bored or despairing
or enduring a headache,
and humid winter.A book I loved; a reproach:
You read like a three-year-old.The masters dying,
their festive midnight children
blown out like fireworks.A constriction in the chest.
An explosion in the street.                            *One Hundredth Street sun-
lit on election morning:
another countrythat seemed possible again.
I went to the Baptist Churchto vote—lines, laughter,
scowls, polyglot commotion,
then, fresh air. That nightI read Hannah Arendt till
bad news muddied late daybreak.                            *Bad news for heroes
chain-smoking across borders,
not out of danger.She smoked outside the café—
it drizzled, as we read herpiece for an-Nahar;
rolled cigarettes at demos
between her speeches.She writes in the ward bed with
a chemo port in her chest.                            *Not a port city
but the river is always
lumbering through iton its muddy way elsewhere,
banks erased often by rain.We crossed a bridge in
a shurba of languages.
History trundledbeneath, gravel on a barge,
ground down to its origins.                            *Ground beef sautéed with
onions and tomatoes, then
add frozen okraN. was so pleased that we found
at the Syrian grocer’snear Faidherbe. Why no
okra in Indian food
in France, we wondered?Bindhi, bamiyaa. A pot of
white rice swells on the burner.                            *Swells and then explodes,
‘like a raisin in the sun’,
our impatience, andothers’. Five years ago, in
some café, after some demo,the Algerian,
Zinab, told the Syrian,
Aïcha, you’ll havewhat we had, ten black years of
slaughter. And Aïcha wept.                            *Did not cry when I
fell on my face, scraped my chin
and turned my ankle,or when the midnight and the
morning emails announced death—a younger man, an
older woman, Berkeley and
Brooklyn, unansweredletters from two coasts. I took
two pills for my aching face.                            *The two young women
come up the stairs with parcels,
their conversationpunctuated by laughter.
The old woman is coughingin her apartment.
one of them opens the door.
They can’t, she can’t knowtheir white nights’ precipices,
her dictionaries’ questions.

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Marilyn Hacker is the author of thirteen books of poems, including A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), Names (Norton, 2010), and Desesperanto (Norton, 2003); an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan, 2010); and fourteen collections of translations of French and Francophone poets including Emmanuel Moses, Marie Etienne, Venus Khoury-Ghata, Habib Tengour and Rachida Madani. She lives in Paris.

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March / April 2018

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