What Stays With You?

This poem was in the last issue of the New Yorker. I’ve read it every morning for a week, and it haunts me. Her name and dates seem part of the poem.

What stays with you latest and deepest? Of curious panics
Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what deepest remains?

–Walt Whitman

In my early years I spoke in many languages.
Then I grew quiet.

(This is not an obituary.)

Some of my dreams faded,
if they could count as dreams.

I was a good friend,
though I mostly called
when there was no one else

I was a poet,
though I only wrote
when there was nothing else
(That was often enough.)

I was truly in love once, as least as I remember it.

A boy from another country said,
_I intend to go alone,_
which was not what I intended.

I learned to sleep in a hammock,
my body sagging to the floor.

I bathed in the river fully clothed:
the cotton clung, translucent.
(A man watched from the outer banks.)

I spent the night on an ancient pyramid,
monkeys shrieking through the trees,

I bribed a guard to leave me alone,
and there was no one left to tell.

A young man skipped ahead on the trail.
I must have said, _Wait._
(Years passed.)
How could I say goodbye?

I sealed leftovers in ziplock bags;
I wore a flowered bathrobe.

I began to listen to books on tape,
especially biography.

(This is not an obituary.)

There was a jungle-book ending:
strands of dirty-blond light
shone through the spreading palms.

–Lexi Rudnitsky

13 thoughts on “What Stays With You?”

  1. timely. I have goosepimples from reading it. A very very opportune time for me to have stumbled on here. Just got off the phone from a possible opportunity to move to San Francisco. Your blog has been a tremendous find – I too was born in one country, grew up in another, live in a third…


  2. Niti, good luck with your decision. It sounds as though you’re practised at dealing with adventure and displacement. This isn’t a bad place to land.


  3. thank you for your vote of confidence. I must warn you though, that if it does indeed go through, I shall be emailing you to ask about renting apartments 🙂 since you’ve done so much research.


  4. I recently read LR’s poem in the New Yorker and was also struck by it. I cut it out to keep, but am haunted by her death. What happened? Lori


  5. I went to high school with Lexi. We graduated the same year. A few months ago, my mother emailed me with the news of her death. There isn’t a story behind it; it was just a tragic and freak occurrence. Here’s the obituary from the Boston Globe:

    Lexi Rudnitsky

    Of New York City, formerly of Weston, poet, teacher, mother, daughter, sister and wife. Died of cardiac arrest on January 17, 2005. She was 32. She was married to Alexander Stille on June 15, 2003. She gave birth to Samuel Wolf Rudnitsky Stille on October 13, 2004. She recently had her manuscript accepted for her first book of poetry. She takes with her a world of love, joy, generosity and unfailing human kindness.

    Along with Alexander and Samuel, she is survived by her parents, Ed & Vicki Rudnitsky and her brothers Ben & Jake. In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to the Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Project, c/o Wainwright Bank & Trust Co., One Church St., Watertown, MA 02472, a charitable foundation in her name to support young women poets.


  6. Wow. This poem gave me the oddest sensation that someone else had written my autobiography. I wanted to know how hers ended; now I wish I’d known her.

    And Adam, I was just thinking about you. Tim is at Jazzfest in NOLA this week, and I wondered if you’d bumped into one another.

    Have you read Lexi’s poems about San Cristobal de las Casas?


  7. I didn’t even know Lexi was a poet until I read the obituary, so I’m not familiar with her work. I last saw her about 14 years ago, and I remember her as a soccer player, which I guess shows how well you can know a person.

    Didn’t run into Tim at Jazzfest, which isn’t too surprising. I barely saw some of the people staying in my own house. You should make the trip out next year if you’ve never been. I’ve heard the French Quarter festival is also a lot of fun, and significantly less crowded…


  8. Wonderful poem. Reminds me, in a funny way, of a miraculous book by Tove Jansson, the creator of those strange marshmellow lightbulb creatures, the Moomins. It’s called ‘The Summer Book’, and (I can assure you), is of a less marshmellow-y nature than her children’s fiction. A plot summary will do it no justice, but for the sake of one, it’s the story of a grandmother and her 6 year old grand-daughter spending a summer on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. It shows such quiet respect for its characters, and gives such a gently piercing view of life, that I found myself being moved by it in a very different way from more melodramatic literature: the effects were somehow deeper and longer lasting. The same as with this poem. I cannot reccomend it highly enough: I’ve linked to a site where you can d/l the first chapter as a pdf.


  9. I loved that poem too — I still keep the issue with me, and read it from time to time.

    Sadly, I have the impression that the New Yorker only published it because its author was, well, dead, and thus had some kind of cache. Honestly, how often does one see such unknown names in that publication? Like when Sylvia Plath died and suddenly a slew of the poems publishers had been sitting on were published at once… just a coincidence, of course. (Different situation, yes, but the principle may apply.) But this is off topic. It’s a beautiful poem, in any case, and that’s what I meant to agree on. I just happened to stumble onto your page in googling Lexi Rudnitsky, to see if her book has come out yet. All signs point to ‘no.’ Sigh.


  10. i just read LR’s poem in the New Yorker…i never read the poems.. you know- somehow you know they don’t mean much just by glancing at their size and shape …but the walt whitman teaser grabbed me…. i will cut it out and tape it on my computer… an icon to our world as it is now…..


  11. Came across the poem yesterday in the New Yorker in an ICU waiting room, as I grieved for my father. He’s in a coma after a fall that caused massive head injury; we’re struggling with the decision to end life support. Yes, there was the evident play of words (deepest remains), and the wonderful Whitman hook so adaptable to struggles petty and profound, found in any life. The shallow ‘could’ve been worse’ sentiment (her tragic and early death) held a guilty comfort. But ‘what remained’ for me was the voice of a idiosyncratic life journey, with regrets and missteps, honestly and beautifully expressed, something I deeply needed at that moment.


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