Thoughts While Walking

By Rachel Wetzsteon 1967–2009 Rachel Wetzsteon
I hate the travel logs that tell you
more about the pain than the place,
yet here I am again, narrating
the same old story to myself
time after time. The papers circling
in an alley, watched by a hunchback,
mimic my plans and their preventer;
when an old man treats the drycleaner
to a lengthy sermon on spotting,
I collect it; bloated clouds spell
messages that people stopped hearing
long ago, and as for the hag
who runs at me, arms open, mouth bleeding?
She’s my future, my terrible double.
Always I head out, hot for details,
and always the details start revolving
around brave ingénues who put their
innocent hands in wicked bonfires.
I could never go for ten minutes
without seeing fissures as faces,
and I confess a hopeless weakness
for the types who come back from travels,
gather their fans around and tell them
stories of order or of wonder:
seashores and meadows sometimes get so
muffled and many-voiced that tourists
storm in and do their talking for them—
It’s addictive, magical, vital.
But I’ve observed how, more and more, these
promising outings are becoming
meta-walks and mechanized phrases:
“When I ventured into the outback,
how it blared back echoes of me,
my bright dreams and tragic uniqueness.”
Meanwhile forces of good and evil
squirm and flourish under the carpet,
mocking the visionary moment’s
sweeping appeal. I’ll go on going
out for scenes of horror and pleasure,
but I’ll start pursuing clues leading
to the return of that enormous,
fertile ground between shouting and silence.

Rachel Wetzsteon, “Thoughts While Walking” from Home and Away, published by Penguin Books, Inc. Copyright © 1998 by Rachel Wetzsteon. Reprinted by permission of Sonja Wetzsteon.

Source: Home and Away (Penguin Books, 1998)

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Poet Rachel Wetzsteon 1967–2009

Subjects Living, Life Choices, Activities, Travels & Journeys

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

 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, Life Choices, Activities, Travels & Journeys

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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