A Different Distance – Michigan Quarterly Review

A Different Distance

Fall 2021 | Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr Read An Excerpt From "A Different Distance" MQR Sound

Poets Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr read excerpts from their correspondence sequence, "A Different Distance."
My heart sinks as night
falls, minutes later daily.
Soon, March, spring again,

but “curfew,” “confinement,” still
menace. “All this for a few

old farts who’d die soon
anyway . . .” comments in Le
Monde. I remember

the AIDS epidemic, shunned
gay sons. I’d rather be shunned

for flamboyant life
than “for my own good,” I think
eating a salad

alone at nine o’clock for
the three hundredth COVID time
                                                   —MH, 15 February 2021
The COVID Age: that
may be the Anthropocene’s
gift to the planet.

My thoughts are dark, sometimes dour,
these vaccine-less days and nights,

especially nights,
already overrun by
triffids, viciously

potent, tsars of vast terrains
of my body: mucous, skin,

breath; now venturing
to occupy the lands I’ve
tried hard to defend

all these years. That space where word
meets page, that grand blank expanse.
                                                   —KN, 2 March 2021
Expanse, constriction . . .
Marwan Barghouti has been
in jail for how long?

The Gazaoui student, at
Harvard on a fellowship,

goes out, gets coffee,
walks to the library, thinks –
but I don’t know what

he thinks, only that he’s there.
And I’m here, a constriction

round my temples, not
an occupying army,
only my weakness,

my body’s vain protest at
its prolonged isolation.
                                                —MH, 7 March 2021
It’s been a prolonged
cosmic spoof, the quest to get
vaccinated: I’m

new kin to Don Quixote,
one whose windmills keep shifting.

Hospitals, barely
equipped to protect their own,
can’t inject chronic

patients, despite trifectas
of RDEB, cancer

and chemo, if we’re
ambulatory. Vaccine
centres asked I turn

seventy-five. Today, I
savour post-vaccine fatigue.
                                                —KN, 16 March 2021
“Fatigue, regrets . . .” a
quote from Adrienne Rich in
a notebook margin.

Once, twice a week, evening
conviviality, banned now.

One friend in the Lot,
one in the Vaucluse, with a
spouse/friend, watch seasons

change, take up gardening, hike,
ride bikes, study Italian –

Voltaire’s dream? COVID
shuts the city down again,

contingent on – but who knows?
Not budding trees, locked cafés.
                                               —MH, 19 March 2021
Budding hope gets locked
once more. Caseloads skyrocket;
caregivers, frontline

workers fight, feet on quagmire,
less equipped a year later,

not more, despite all
the tedious talk of war and
wartime effort. Talk

comes cheap to our government,
talk that’s a perfect smokescreen

for failure, torpor,
electoral ambition.

gains screen-time: great game-
plan for twenty-twenty-two!
                                               —KN, 29 March 2021
Two hours before dawn,
I give up on sleep, turn on
the bedside lamp, pick

up the book I put down at
midnight, attempt escape to

Algiers, another
decade, history, someone’s
struggle who’s not me

getting old in a quagmire
city, “Unfortunately

it was paradise. . . .”
Solitary confinement
now. Food shopping the

only vestige of human
exchange, though daylight lingers.
                                              —MH, 29 March 2021
What lingers, through day,
month and year, will be kindness –
kindness that kept me

sane and safe, yes, even with
the same unsought trifecta

snapping at my heels,
noisy and unfunny, save
during our chats, d.

Scaffolding to laugh (and weep)
at this, the théâtre de

l’absurde of our own
grandly defective bodies.
In this almanac

of blessings, laughter became
you, d, and somehow, spring tide.
                                             —KN, 31 March 2021

To read the authors’ correspondence alongside these poems, you can purchase the Why We Write issue of MQR here.

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