“It’s so red hot, thinking about his life and what he might regard as appropriate for someone else to know,” Hirsch says.“It’s so red hot, thinking about his life and what he might regard as appropriate for someone else to know,” Hirsch says.

In October, 1988, my friends Janet Landay and Edward Hirsch flew to New Orleans to adopt a boy who was six days old. He was collected from the hospital by their lawyer, who brought him to the house where they were staying. Waiting for her, they stood in the street in front of the house. For several days, they worried that the mother, overcome by love or by guilt, might want the child back, but she didn’t.

At the time, Hirsch was an associate professor at the University of Houston. He is now the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, but he is above all a poet. He has published eight books of poems, among them “Earthly Measures,” which Harold Bloom included in “The Western Canon.” Nominated by Robert Penn Warren, Hirsch had won the Rome Prize, which confers a year’s residence at the American Academy there. Travelling from Rome to New Orleans took twenty-three hours, leaving Landay and Hirsch with “jet lag instead of labor,” Hirsch wrote in a journal. Before leaving, they had told the lawyer their son’s name, Gabriel. In the Book of Daniel, Gabriel approaches Daniel “ ‘in swift flight,’ which is how our son came to us,” Hirsch wrote.

Hirsch calls his journal, which was written retrospectively, a dossier. By the time he started it, in the fall of 2011, he and Landay were divorced. He began it as a means of writing down everything he could remember of Gabriel, who died, at twenty-two, on August 27, 2011. The night before, around ten, as Hurricane Irene was arriving in New York, Gabriel told his girlfriend that he was going to meet a friend for a drink near Columbia University. A little after eleven, he sent her a text saying he would be home in an hour. After that, he didn’t answer his phone. Three days later, Landay and Hirsch found themselves speaking to detectives in a police station in Jersey City, New Jersey. An entry on Craigslist had led Gabriel to a party where guests were given a club drug, possibly in a drink. He became violently sick and had a seizure. An ambulance took him to a hospital, where he died, shortly after six in the morning, from cardiac arrest. Gabriel’s life and death are too painful for Landay to discuss, she told me. Furthermore, she feels strongly that they are no one’s business but hers and Hirsch’s.