Marilyn Hacker


For K. J., Leaving and Coming Back


August First: it was a year ago
we drove down from St.-Guilhem-le-Désert
to open the house in St. Guiraud

rented unseen. I'd stay; you'd go; that's where
our paths diverged. I'd settle down to work,
you'd start the next month of your Wanderjahr.

I turned the iron key in the rusted lock
(it came, like a detective-story clue,
in a manila envelope, postmarked

elsewhere, unmarked otherwise) while you
stood behind me in the midday heat.
Somnolent shudders marked our progress. Two

horses grazed on a roof across the street.
You didn't believe me until you turned around.
They were both old, one mottled gray, one white.

Past the kitchen's russet dark, we found
bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace:
Verlaine, L'Étranger, Notes from the Underground.

Through an archway, a fresh-plastered staircase
led steeply upward. In a white room stood
a white-clad brass bed. Sunlight in your face

came from the tree-filled window. "You did good."
We laid crisp sheets we would inaugurate
that night, rescued from the grenier a wood-

en table we put under the window. Date
our homes from that one, to which you returned
the last week of August, on a late

bus, in shorts, like a crew-cut, sunburned
bidasse. Sunburned, in shorts, a new haircut,
with Auden and a racing pulse I'd earned

by "not being sentimental about
you," I sprinted to "La Populaire."
You walked into my arms when you got out.

At a two minute bus stop, who would care?
"La Populaire" puffed onward to Millau
while we hiked up to the hiatus where

we'd left ourselves when you left St. Guiraud
after an unambiguous decade
of friendship, and some months of something new.

A long week before either of us said
a compromising word acknowledging
what happened every night in the brass bed

and every bird-heralded blue morning
was something we could claim and keep and use;
was, like the house, a place where we could bring

our road-worn, weary selves.
Now, we've a pause
in a year we wouldn't have wagered on.
Dusk climbs the tiled roof opposite; the blue's

still sun-soaked; it's a week now since you've gone
to be a daughter in the capital.
(I came north with you as far as Beaune.)

I cook things you don't like. Sometimes I fall
asleep, book open, one A.M., sometimes
I long for you all night in Provencal

or langue d'oc, or wish I could, when I'm
too much awake. My early walk, my late
walk mark the day's measures like rhyme.

(There's nothing I hate---perhaps I hate
the adipose deposits on my thighs
---as much as having to stay put and wait!)

Although a day alone cuts tight or lies
too limp sometimes, I know what I didn't know
a year ago, that makes it the right size:
owned certainty; perpetual surprise.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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