cover image Winter Numbers: Poems

Winter Numbers: Poems

Marilyn Hacker. W. W. Norton & Company, $17.95 (95pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03674-9

Listen to a poet's query: ``Who dies well?'' In her seventh book, Hacker considers the too-familiar deaths of her friends from cancer and AIDS, and those of her friends' children (``morose, unanswerable, the list/ of thirty-and forty-year-old suicides''), remembering that ``no one was promised a shapely life/ ending in a tutelary vision.'' When breast cancer menaces her, she records her losses: ``Should I tattoo my scar?'' Hacker's ironic wisdom is achieved in such writing. But death is everywhere: the poet looks backward to the genocide of World War II and abroad to Bosnia and El Salvador to draw parallels between cancer of the flesh and this century's political horrors: ``My self-betraying body needs to grieve/at how hatreds metastasize.'' In her longer and best poems, she protests death, as in ``Against Elegies,'' or bears witness to blighting disease in ``Cancer Winter.'' A flurry of highly stylized poems-whimsical but slight-in this brief collection provide relief but fade beside the major. Dark as her subject is, Hacker's poems illuminate: ``All I can know is the expanding moment,/ present, infinitesimal, infinite.'' (Oct.)