In issue #131 (summer 1994), we printed a poem by James Merrill about the death by AIDS of one of his friends. These prescient lines occur:
"See," breathed the mirror, “who's alive,
Who hasn't forfeited the common touch,
The longing to lead everybody's life"
—Lifelong daydream of precisely those
Whom privilege or talent set apart:
How to atone for the achieved uniqueness?
By dying everybody's death, dear heart—
Saint, terrorist, fishwife. Stench that appals.
Famines, machine guns, the Great Plague (your sickness),
Rending of garments, cries, mass burials.
I'd watched my beard sprout in the mirror's grave.
Mirrors are graves, as all can see:
Knew this emerging mask would outlast me,
Just as the life outlasts us, that we live . . .
How characteristic of him, to have spoken more suitably on this occasion than any grieving sentences of ours at his sudden death. But not loss—we cannot lose such a poet (“achieved uniqueness”) when he dies, only some- thing of ou…