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About this Poem 

"Anyone who has migraines or even tension headaches knows the spiral of disastrous thoughts that accompany them. But it doesn't take a headache to magnify the difficult confrontation of the loss that sometimes seems worse than a death, when your personal exemplars of the generation-that-went-before can no longer guide, advise or comfort."
—Marilyn Hacker

Headaches

Marilyn Hacker, 1942
Wine again. The downside of any evening’s
bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution :
stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple’s
site of bombardment.

Tortured syntax, thorned thoughts, vocabulary
like a forest littered with unexploded
cluster bombs, no exit except explosion
ripping the branches. 

Stacks of shadowed books on the bedside table
wall a jar of Tiger Balm. You grope for its
glass netsuke hexagon. Tic stabs, dull pain 
supercedes voices,

stills obsessive one-sided conversations.
Turn from mouths you never will kiss, a neck your
fingers will not trace to a golden shoulder.
Think of your elders —

If, in fact, they’d died, the interlocutors
who, alive, recede into incoherence, 
you would write the elegy, feel clean grief, still
asking them questions

— though you know it’s you who’d provide the answers.
Auden’s Old People"s Home, Larkin’s The Old Fools
are what come to mind, not Yeats.  In a not-so
distant past, someone  

poured a glass of wine at three in the morning,
laid a foolscap pad on the kitchen table,
mind aspark from the long loquacious dinner
two hours behind her,

and you got a postcard (a Fifties jazz club) 
next day across town, where she scrawled she’d found the
tail-end of a good Sancerre in the fridge and
finished the chapter. 

Now she barely knows her friends when you visit.
Drill and mallet work on your forehead. Basta!
And it is Màrgaret you mourn for..  Get up, 
go to the bathroom. 

You take the drugs. Synapses buzz and click.
You turn the bed lamp on, open a book :
vasoconstrictor and barbiturate 
make words in oval light reverberate.
The sky begins to pale at five o’clock. 

Copyright © 2013 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 10, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Marilyn Hacker. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on December 10, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker

Born in New York City on November 27, 1942, Marilyn Hacker is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
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
poem

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

poem

 

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