“I was in doubt that I could make something of myself as a writer until I met two people who were very important to me: one was Gaston Lachaise and the other was E. E. Cummings. Cummings I loved, and I love his memory. He did a wonderful imitation of a wood-burning locomotive going from Tiflis to Minsk. He could hear a pin falling in soft dirt at the distance of three miles. Do you remember the story of Cummings’s death? It was September, hot, and Cummings was cutting kindling in the back of his house in New Hampshire. He was sixty-six or -seven or something like that. Marion, his wife, leaned out the window and asked, ‘Cummings, isn’t it frightfully hot to be chopping wood?’ He said, ‘I’m going to stop now, but I’m going to sharpen the ax before I put it up, dear.’ Those were the last words he spoke. At his funeral Marianne Moore gave the eulogy. Marion Cummings had enormous eyes. You could make a place in a book with them. She smoked cigarettes as though they were heavy, and she wore a dark dress with a cigarette hole in it.”
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
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
Men and women, mortally wounded where we
love and nourish, dying at thirty, forty,
fifty, not on barricades, but in beds of
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:
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
~ Marilyn Hacker
A Morning in April
I meet my mother at the lawyer’s office in town.
We thought it best to talk about my being given
health care proxy and power of attorney for
my father without him initially being present.
The lawyer’s on Main Street. He has new shoes.
He is a very quiet and accommodating man with overly
bushy eyebrows that might crawl off
his forehead at any second. His secretary, the older one,
performs all the small talk about the weather.
The younger is obsessed with eating a bowl of frosted flakes.
We are in there for a very long half an hour,
charged one hundred dollars which I find cheap. Afterwards,
I suggest to my mother that we have coffee together,
but she says she should get back to the house as soon
as possible since my father is being looked after by a neighbor.
So, crossing the street, I walk her to her car. She holds
onto my hand. Her hand is the hand of a woman in her eighties.
It is diminished and bony but still capable of being firm.
She was an exceptionally beautiful woman. Still is. I was always
so proud of the fact, when I was a kid, of just how beautiful
my mother was. Naturally enough, I could never understand how
my father had managed to actually have this woman in his life.
I lived with the suspicions that he could read such thoughts in
my eyes. But, I’m well aware of the fact that their love endures
on a level I may never know. I feel like weeping right here
in the street. I help her into her car. She makes a u-turn and
drives off in the direction rain is coming from. I stand there,
rooted in front of a closed movie theater in a decaying town
that lies between a river and a creek. It is a morning in April.
At some point Alzheimer’s could force us to put my father in
a nursing home. I don’t talk to my mother about this too much.
We know the possibility exists. I dread the day when
I’ll be responsible for separating them. It will be like
tearing the wings off a bird and throwing them up in the air and
expecting them to fly.