Thursday, March 29, 2018

Waiting with Marilyn Hacker

photo © Mark Butkus 2011
"Dismissals and evictions come by mail."

I get up every day before the mail
and go through the same matinal ritual;
piss, wash, make coffee, warm my hands,
prune and water my three rooms of plants,
feed the cats, answer yesterday's letters.
Something frightening is going to happen.

But nothing extraordinary will happen
today. There's no interesting mail:
a postcard, bills, very professional letters
that only want a kind of ritual
reply. I chew my pen and watch the plants
and would like very much to put my hands

in dirt or in someone else's hands.
I don't know what it is I want to happen.
I think that I am safe behind the plants.
There was no coded message in the mail
today. "You have let your part of the ritual
lapse. We are informed by certain letters

the key to the kabbalistic letters
has fallen into uninitiate hands.
Purify yourself with the first ritual
cleansing. We may not say what will happen
and cannot contact you except by mail.
Because of interceptions and of plants."

I wish I lived alone with growing plants.
I wish I had a lover instead of letters
from strangers. The arrival of the mail
is the only time that someone hands
me movement. Nothing real is going to happen
yet, except this desiccated ritual.

Later, I preserve my wit in ritual
dissection. The cats sleep in the plants.
The fog burns off toward evening. If I happen
to say: impatience and despair, in letters
to strangers, I am putting myself in their hands.
Dismissals and evictions come by mail.

Mail this now. Then I will tell you the ritual.
Rub your hands with leaves from these three plants.
Wait for their letters. Tell me what happens.


— Marilyn Hacker


Waiting is from Part Four of Marilyn Hacker's debut volume of poetry, Presentation Piece. Published in 1973 when she was 31 years young, Presentation Piece earned numerous accolades and won the 1974 National Book Award for Poetry. The native New Yorker has published 15 volumes of poetry, four volumes of translations and one essay collection on poets and poetry. Waiting should not be confused with the poem of the same name by the Belgian-born poet Guy Goffette — a poem she herself translated into English for his Charlestown Blues. Marilyn Hacker was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame in 2013.