Worms and Us

By Rachel Wetzsteon 1967–2009 Rachel Wetzsteon
Maggots in the food, maggots in the floorboards,
maggots in the recurring nightmare in which,
lying down with a rugged adonis,
I wake to find him almost nibbled away.
Certainly signs of death are everywhere,
but love is more than combat with worms
and cannot be so glibly explained away;
I do not tremble or knock my knees
to keep the maggots slumbering below ground,
or crush them underfoot by flocking to
everything they are not: raucous gatherings,
stolen kisses. On the contrary,
I come away from parties adoring
what is wormlike in them: the unrisen soufflé,
the precocious boy’s octogenarian sayings,
the drooping lids of the hostess, someone’s
death rattle of a laugh. Certainly love has
commerce with vermin, but it is a friendly
partnership, not a league of discord;
a hacking cough gives proof of a full life,
a passing stranger seems all the stronger
when one foot is sinking quietly into the grave.
But is is this lingering horror of dust
that makes me pull us out of the cold earth
any way I know how: because I strive
for heaven in little rooms, visit you
in order to suck your blood, then spread it
over pipes and daffodils, and shove you
up to the vacant sky, where you hover
like a stone-cold, tedious statue who never dies,
you, poor pawn, are a jack-in-the-box gone haywire,
and I am a grinning humanist with bad dreams.

Rachel Wetzsteon, “Worms and Us” from The Other Stars, published by Penguin Books, Inc. Copyright © 1994 by Rachel Wetzsteon. Reprinted by permission of Sonja Wetzsteon.

Source: The Other Stars (Penguin Books, 1994)

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Poet Rachel Wetzsteon 1967–2009

Subjects Living, Death, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Rachel  Wetzsteon


Born in Manhattan, poet and editor Rachel Wetzsteon received degrees from Yale University, Johns Hopkins University, and Columbia University. She made her home in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, which is the setting for many of her formally assured poems. Influenced by Charles Baudelaire, Soren Kierkegaard, and Philip Larkin, Wetzsteon infused her urban and emotional landscapes with a dry wit. As critic Adam . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Death, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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