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About this poet

Rachel Zucker was born in 1971 in New York City and was raised in Greenwich Village. She earned her BA in psychology at Yale University, then her MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Zucker is the author of five books of poetry: The Pedestrians (Wave Books, 2014), Museum of Accidents (Wave Books, 2009), The Bad Wife Handbook (Wesleyan University Press, 2007), The Last Clear Narrative (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), and Eating in the Underworld (Wesleyan University Press, 2003). In addition to her poetry collections, Zucker has also published a memoir, MOTHERs (Counterpath Press, 2013), which details Zucker's relationship with her mother, as well as the various surrogate mothers and female mentors she has had in her life.

Zucker's work is known for its blunt, witty, and complicated takes on marriage, motherhood, familial relationships, and daily challenges. Dan Chiasson writes, “Zucker's name-naming, carping, merciless, and gloriously human body of work thus far suggests that any full account of being an individual has to register how specimen-like and interchangeable our lives often seem.”

“Zucker is a poet of bottom-scraping, blood-chilling existential anxiety, one among many, and a poet of New York City, one among many, and a poet of American Jewish inheritance, one among many, and one of the funniest, too,” writes Stephen Burt.

Her honors include the Barrow Street Poetry Prize; the Center for Book Arts Award, judged by Lynn Emanuel; the Salt Hill Poetry Award, judged by C. D. Wright; and the Strousse Award from Prairie Schooner. In 2012, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

Zucker currently teaches at New York University and the 92nd Street Y and is a certified labor doula. She lives in New York City.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
The Pedestrians (Wave Books, 2014)
Museum of Accidents (Wave Books, 2009)
The Bad Wife Handbook (Wesleyan University Press, 2007)
The Last Clear Narrative (Wesleyan University Press, 2004)
Eating in the Underworld (Wesleyan University Press, 2003)

Nonfiction
MOTHERs (Counterpath Press, 2013)

Poem

Rachel Zucker

The other day Matt Rohrer said,
the next time you feel yourself going dark
in a poem, just don't, and see what happens.

That was when Matt, Deborah Landau,
Catherine Barnett, and I were chatting,
on our way to somewhere and something else.

In her office, a few minutes earlier, Deborah
had asked, are you happy? And I said, um, yes,
actually, and Deborah: well, I'm not—

all I do is work and work. And the phone
rang every thirty seconds and between
calls Deborah said, I asked Catherine

if she was happy and Catherine said, life
isn't about happiness it's about helping
other people. I shrugged, not knowing how

to respond to such a fine idea.
So, what makes you happy?
Deborah asked, in an accusatory way,

and I said, I guess, the baby, really,
because he makes me stop
working? And Deborah looked sad

and just then her husband called
and Deborah said, Mark, I've got
rachel Zucker here, she's happy,

I'll have to call you back. And then
we left her office and went downstairs
to the salon where a few weeks before

we'd read poems for the Not for Mothers Only
anthology and I especially liked Julie Carr's
poem about crying while driving while listening to

the radio report news of the war while her kids
fought in the back seat while she remembered
her mother crying while driving, listening to

news about the war. There were a lot of poems
that night about crying, about the war, about
fighting, about rage, anger, and work. Afterward

Katy Lederer came up to me and said,
"I don't believe in happiness"—you're such a bitch
for using that line, now no one else can.

Deborah and I walked through that now-sedated space
which felt smaller and shabby without Anne Waldman
and all those women and poems and suddenly

there was Catherine in a splash of sunlight
at the foot of a flight of stairs talking to Matt Rohrer
on his way to a room or rooms I've never seen.

And that's when Deborah told Matt that I was
happy and that Catherine thought life wasn't about
happiness and Deborah laughed a little and flipped

her hair (she is quite glamorous) and said, but Matt,
are you happy? Well, Matt said he had a bit of a coldd
but otherwise was and that's when he said,

next time you feel yourself going dark in a poem,
just don't, and see what happens. And then,
because it was Julian's sixth birthday, Deborah went

to bring him cupcakes at school and Catherine and I
went to talk to graduate students who teach poetry
to children in hospitals and shelters and other

unhappy places and Matt went up the stairs to the room
or rooms I've never seen. That was last week and now
I'm here, in bed, turning toward something I haven't felt

for a long while. A few minutes ago I held our baby up
to the bright window and sang the song I always sing
before he takes his nap. He whined and struggled

the way toddlers do, wanting to move on to something
else, something next, and his infancy is almost over.
He is crying himself to sleep now and I will not say

how full of sorrow I feel, but will turn instead
to that day, only a week ago, when I was
the happiest poet in the room, including Matt Rohrer.

From Museum of Accidents. Copyright © 2009 by Rachel Zucker. Reprinted by permission Wave Books and the author.

From Museum of Accidents. Copyright © 2009 by Rachel Zucker. Reprinted by permission Wave Books and the author.

Rachel Zucker

Rachel Zucker

Rachel Zucker was born in 1971 in New York City and was raised in Greenwich Village. She earned her BA in psychology at Yale University, then her MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

by this poet

poem
At home, the bells were a high light-yellow
with no silver or gray just buttercup or sugar-and-lemon.

Here bodies are lined in blue against the sea.
And where red is red there is only red.

I have to be blue to bathe in the sea.
Red, to live in the red room with red air

to rest my head, red cheek down, on the
poem
When we made love you had 
the dense body of a Doberman
and the square head of a Rottweiler.

With my eyes closed I saw: 
a light green plate with seared scallops
and a perfect fillet of salmon on a cedar plank.

Now I am safe in the deep V of a weekday 
wanting to tell you how the world 
is full of street signs
poem

I skim sadness like fat off the surface
of cooling soup. Don't care about
metaphor but wish it would arrive
me. There’s a cool current of air
this hot day I want to ride.
I have no lover, not even my love.
I have no other, not even I.