ELEGY FOR RACHEL WETZSTEON
I just read that a woman, poet, and friend, younger than I,
had committed an impossible act.
Something to do
with that old standard, unrequited love.
I’ve been spared the details—
My Rachel is still the one that loved being on sabbatical
because she was free to squander the afternoons
watching movies, from Netflix, alone at home—
confessing the one she liked best to be “Once,”
which was, “I admit, the most romantic.”
It made sense, of what kind I didn’t know.
The incident happened out of genuine light-headed-elevator-wary-hunger,
after the Hofstra sponsored reception at the Waldorf
where I saw friends I’ve known my entire adult life
when, sensing the energy draining rapidly from the room,
in the wake of William Merwin’s reading from Migration,
Rachel and I fled, together, strategizing what manner
and expression to adopt to crash the banquet adjacent—
another world, a deodorized mausoleum,
stifling, gentrified, seedy
where the guests were positioned as if to discourage
a lively buzz
like the one that was still in our ears.
Rachel took to her new role of outlaw.
We piled our plates high and set them down at the table—
reserved for us.
We did our best to suppress the explosion of laughter
percolating, threatening to boil over…
we couldn’t be that animated without being found out,
like thrill seeking bandits to be hunted down,
trapped in a marsh and done in.
Rachel assumed a somber expression—
the perfect comedic gesture, before, mouth full—
she dug into a yam, and exclaimed: “I was star-ving,”
I knew that this gaiety among others, and delight in transgressing—
with the fervor of the shy and gregarious,
could reverse itself, back home, in your own
And then she turned to the nearest waiter,
who stood waiting, drained, having come straight
from his day job as a porter for Amtrak, now wearing another
starched—and rough as an emory board—white jacket.
“Could you tell us which wine would go well
with the roast beef and horseradish?”
He recommended Bordeaux and whispered
something about the year.
Dear one, dear mischievous wild girl on the run,
and the divided rhyme with Wetzsteon.
I refused to anticipate you taking your own life,
you, with your last name so simple to pronounce,
so close to impossible to spell, I wish, even now,
that you’d used “Whetstone,” which I know, I know,
would have hidden the Jew in you—but you would hear
things that wouldn’t otherwise reach your ears.
Your fine ear. You were better than you knew.
Before I came across the dire announcement that day,
I had just re-read your splendid Montale and
I tried to block—the shock—but the pain, distilled, wrecked
my defenses and brought to mind your lines: “Even in sleep/
I cannot save you from the carnal deep.”
“Mark…you just… can’t believe how hungry I was.”
Looking back, her delivery could have been the key.
I dragged her away and we shared a taxi
uptown, before were spotted, by the headwaiter and chef
casting glances in our direction
with the air of former resistance fighters, or thieves.
* * *
Mark Rudman has received awards from the National Book Critics Circle, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the CCLM Editor’s Fellowship. His most recent books are a selection from his 812 pg. Rider Quintet, The Motel En Route to Life Out There (SALT), and a prose meditation on wishing, willing, and imagination, The Book of Samuel (Northwestern).