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.
Marilyn Hacker - 1942-
Nearly a Valediction
You happened to me. I was happened to like an abandoned building by a bull- dozer, like the van that missed my skull happened a two-inch gash across my chin. You were as deep down as I've ever been. You were inside me like my pulse. A new- born flailing toward maternal heartbeat through the shock of cold and glare: when you were gone, swaddled in strange air I was that alone again, inventing life left after you. I don't want to remember you as that four o'clock in the morning eight months long after you happened to me like a wrong number at midnight that blew up the phone bill to an astronomical unknown quantity in a foreign currency. The U.S. dollar dived since you happened to me. You've grown into your skin since then; you've grown into the space you measure with someone you can love back without a caveat. While I love somebody I learn to live with through the downpulled winter days' routine wakings and sleepings, half-and-half caffeine- assisted mornings, laundry, stock-pots, dust- balls in the hallway, lists instead of longing, trust that what comes next comes after what came first. She'll never be a story I make up. You were the one I didn't know where to stop. If I had blamed you, now I could forgive you, but what made my cold hand, back in prox- imity to your hair, your mouth, your mind, want where it no way ought to be, defined by where it was, and was and was until the whole globed swelling liquefied and spilled through one cheek's nap, a syllable, a tear, was never blame, whatever I wished it were. You were the weather in my neighborhood. You were the epic in the episode. You were the year poised on the equinox.