For Sale: Jarvis Thurston & Mona Van Duyn House


In February 2008 I wrote a post after Jarvis Thurston died. Jarvis was a longtime member of the English Department faculty at Washington University. His wife, Mona Van Duyn, who died of cancer in 2004, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former poet laureate of the United States.

A few weeks ago I got a voicemail from a guy named Jaime Gerth, who said he'd read the blog post and wanted to ask me about it.

Turns out Gerth had bought the Thurstons' place last year. Jarvis had left the house to Wash. U. in his will. Gerth had bought it and fixed it up. Now his wife is being transferred to California and they're selling the house without ever having lived in it.

Gerth wanted to know if it would be all right if he printed out the blog post to show to prospective buyers.

Sure, why not?

I got the real estate agent, Justin Taylor, to show me around the place.

Here's what I wrote about the house last year:

The place has long gone shabby in the way old people's houses do. Two of the upstairs rooms were studies; Mona's was the small one in the back, Jarvis's, almost entirely lined with books, overlooks Teasdale. I'm pretty sure I'd never been upstairs. I took a few books down from the shelves, opened them to see where Jarvis had written his name in tidy blue script.

Downstairs, I...sat on the couch and looked across the living room to where Mona always used to sit.

...[T]he place still bore her mark: wallpaper, ceilings, woodwork all stained yellow from her endless cigarettes. Jarvis's presence remained too, evasive but ineluctable.
That place is long gone. Here's the living room:

7505 Teasdale Avenue in University City, former home of Jarvis Thurston and Mona Van Duyn. Yours for $330K?
  • 7505 Teasdale Avenue in University City, former home of Jarvis Thurston and Mona Van Duyn. Yours for $330K?

The description I gave is from this vantage point. Mona's chair would have been next to the fireplace, facing the camera. The room off to the right used to be the dining room. Gerth turned it into the kitchen, because what was formerly the kitchen -- the room with the two windows in the center of the far background of this pic -- was tiny. The door in this picture leads to the basement, which used to house Jarvis' woodworking setup and which now is empty.

I was sad when I found out Jarvis had left the house to Washington U., because I knew the university wouldn't for a minute entertain the notion of fixing it up and making the most of its history.

I wonder what Jarvis would think.

Regardless, someone will buy the house, and someone will live in it. The location -- only a few yards off busy Hanley Road and a short block south of Delmar -- isn't the quietest, but it's a solid house (built in 1918) in a solid neighborhood.

And now, thanks to Jaime Gerth, it has a master bathroom and a second-floor laundry room. There aren't floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in Jarvis' old study upstairs any more, though; that space has gone back to the bedroom it must've been before the Thurstons moved in.


I regret not swiping one of those books before they got boxed up and carried off. Part of me entertains the fantasy that some of them will turn up at this year's Book Fair.

Meantime, the asking price for 7505 Teasdale is $329,900. You can reach Justin Taylor at 314-714-5705.


If in my mind I marry you every year
it is to calm an extravagance of love
with dousing custom, for it flames up fierce
and wild whenever I forget that we live
in double rooms whose temperature's controlled
by matrimony's turned-down thermostat.
I need the mnemonics, now that we're old,
of oath and law in re-memorizing that.
Our dogs are dead, our child never came true.
I might use up, in my weak-mindedness,
the whole human supply of warmth on you
before I could think of others and digress.
"Love" is finding the familiar dear.
"In love" is to be taken by surprise.
Over, in the shifty face you wear,
and over, in the assessments of your eyes,
you change, and with new sweet or barbed word
find out new entrances to my inmost nerve.
When you stand at the stove it's I who am most stirred.
When you finish work I rest without reserve.
Daytimes, sometimes, our three-legged race seems slow.
Squabbling onward, we chafe from being so near.
But all night long we lie like crescents of Velcro,
turning together till we re-adhere.
Since you, with longer stride and better vision,
more clearly see the finish line, I stoke
my hurrying self, to keep it in condition,
with light and life-renouncing meals of smoke.
As when a collector scoops two Monarchs in
at once, whose fresh flights to and from each other
are netted down, so in vows I re-imagine
I re-invoke what keeps us stale together.
What you try to give is more than I want to receive,
yet each month when you pick up scissors for our appointment
and my cut hair falls and covers your feet I believe
that the house is filled again with the odor of ointment.

- Mona Van Duyn

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.