poem index

Poem-A-Day

Through Poem-a-Day, we present original, previously unpublished poems by our country's most talented poets throughout the week and classic poems on the weekends. 

learn more

Pantoum

About this Poem 

“A few weeks ago, I was walking up the street from the Pont Marie in Paris with a friend who is a Syrian political refugee. An older man passed us whom we both had met—my friend had last seen him speaking to the crowd of anti-government demonstrators in Homs, and I, in a Paris gathering come to hear a Syrian poet read at an art gallery. He is now a political refugee also. He turned the corner, thinking of something else, or didn’t recognize either of us because our being together was out of context. And my friend had let her hair grow long again.”
Marilyn Hacker

Pantoum

Marilyn Hacker, 1942

for Fadwa Soleiman

Said the old woman who barely spoke the language:
Freedom is a dream, and we don’t know whose.
Said the insurgent who was now an exile:
When I began to write the story I started bleeding.

Freedom is a dream, and we don’t know whose—
that man I last saw speaking in front of the clock tower
when I began to write the story?  I started bleeding
five years after I knew I’d have no more children.

That man I last saw speaking in front of the clock tower
turned an anonymous corner and disappeared.
Five years after I knew I’d have no more children
my oldest son was called up for the army,

turned an anonymous corner and disappeared.
My nephew, my best friend, my second sister
whose oldest son was called up for the army,
are looking for work now in other countries.

Her nephew, his best friend, his younger sister,
a doctor, an actress, an engineer,
are looking for work now in other countries
stumbling, disillusioned, in a new language.

A doctor, an actress, an engineer
wrestle with the rudiments of grammar
disillusioned, stumbling in a new language,
hating their luck, and knowing they are lucky.

Wrestling with the rudiments of grammar,
the old woman, who barely speaks the language,
hated her luck. I know that I am lucky
said the insurgent who is now an exile.

Copyright © 2014 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2014 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the author.