With great sadness, we at the The New Republic learned this week of the death of Rachel Wetzsteon, our poetry editor. Rachel only joined TNR a few months ago, and she had just begun to make her mark on the poetry we publish. But we admired her own poems for years: at 42, she was one of the best poets of her generation, distinguished by her natural gift for form, her tough urban romanticism, and her appealing combination of melancholy and wit. Her three books of poems—Other Stars (1994), Home and Away (1998), and Sakura Park (2006)—show a steady increase in mastery and feeling, as she took on the inheritance of Larkin and Auden (about whom she wrote a critical study, “Influential Ghosts”) and made it her own. Sakura Park, named after a park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where she lived, is a lovely and moving book about romance and disillusion, conjuring a life that is at once intellectual and glamorous and heartbroken. We had looked forward to working with Rachel, and reading her, for many years to come, and we join her many readers, friends, and colleagues in mourning her loss. In her memory, we present two of her poems below.
Short Ode to Morningside Heights
Convergence of worlds, old stomping ground,
comfort me in my dark apartment
when my latest complaint shrinks my focus
to a point so small its hugely present
but barely there, and I fill the air
with all the spiteful words I spared the streets.
The pastry shop’s abuzz
with crazy George and filthy graffiti,
but the peacocks are strutting across the way
and the sumptuous cathedral gives
the open-air banter a reason to deepen:
build structures inside the mind, it tells
the languorous talkers, to rival the ones outside!
Things are and are not solid.
As Opera Night starts at Caffe Taci,
shapes hurry home with little red bags,
but do they watch the movies they hold
or do they forego movies for rooftops
where they catch Low’s floating dome in the act
of always being about to fly away?
Ranters, racers, help me remember
that the moon-faced fountain’s the work of many hands,
that people linger at Toast long after we’ve left.
And as two parks frame the neighborhood—
green framing gray and space calming clamor—
be for me, well-worn streets, a context
I can’t help carrying home, a night fugue
streaming over my one-note how, when, why.
Be the rain for my barren indoor cry.
Commands for the End of Summer
leaves, not with what
has made us sorry but
with what was profound about that
gathering winds, but don’t
blow so giddily I teeter
listened to all
summer long, accept my
thanks: to regress is not to move
my wrist, remind me that
in this cauldron there is a world
days of humid
agony have earned you
the right to a hundred purple
I can feel you
stirring, I can hardly
wait for the things that will happen