A CLOSER LOOK: Linda Pastan



Linda Pastan's is a domestic voice, finding art in the quotidian, and in its disruptions, both painful and glad.  As if in preparation for this kind of literary life, she was born into a Jewish family in the Bronx in 1932, went on to Radcliffe College for her undergraduate degree, then earned an MA at Brandeis University.

 

Among her many books are Traveling Light (W.W. Norton & Co., 2011); Queen of a Rainy Country (2006); The Last Uncle (2002); Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998 (1998), which was nominated for the National Book Award; An Early Afterlife (l995); Heroes In Disguise (1991); The Imperfect Paradise (1988), a nominee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; PM/AM: New and Selected Poems (l982), which was nominated for the National Book Award; The Five Stages of Grief (l978); and A Perfect Circle of Sun (l971).

 

Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, a Dylan Thomas Award, the Di Castagnola Award, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Maurice English Award, the Charity Randall Citation, and the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. A recipient of a Radcliffe College Distinguished Alumnae Award, she served as the Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995.

 

Many additional poems by Linda Pastan can be read on the Poetry Foundation's website here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/search/?q=pastan


Linda Pastan:

 

When I chose poems for Carnival Evening, my New and Selected, I felt as if I were deciding which poems would live, which would die.  And the choices I made were often arbitrary, reflecting merely what I felt at the moment.  This, then, is my opportunity to resurrect some of those poems that were left behind—poems that I still care about.

 


A Selection of Poems by

Linda Pastan

 

 

Penelope

The sun is scarcely
a shadow of itself,
it bled into the sea
all last week
and now, bandaged away,
waits out with me the long, long
month of rain.

Grey fades to grey.
The horizon is
the finest seam between
water and water, sky and sky.
Only the tide still moves,
leaving the print of its ribbed bones
on the abandoned sand
as you left yours on me
when you moved imperceptibly from my embrace.

I must wring out the towels,
wring out the swim suits,
wring my eyes dry of tears,
watching at a window
on one leg, then the other,
like the almost extinct heron.

 

(from A Perfect Circle of Sun)

 

 

Evening At Bird Island

I travel to bird island

with only oars for wings,
dragging a wake
like an outstretched gull
through colors
the moon will salt to grey.

Unfastened
the birds rise and rise,
and I, searching for crane or heron,
find only wings
two pencil lines apiece—
a child’s drawing of flight.

The gulls come in to sleep,
fold with a sound of feathers
like sheets rustling,
and I fold,
arms wrapped around knees
in the bottom of a boat
that seems to sink
in its own reflection.

In quiet water
under my rocking floor
fish swallow other fish,
feeding
like bad dreams
under the surfaces of sleep.

(from A Perfect Circle of Sun)

 

 

Barbecue

In the late light
of Indian summer
we stand
with our burnt
offerings,
watching the sky
become charred with evening
lost in the smell
of the meat
as we remember
each in his own flesh
the old weather
of the hunt.

(from Setting the Table, Dryad Press)

 

 

At the Train Museum


Topeka . . . Junction City . . .
Santa Fe.  The places
the imagination takes us
are simply these.
All . . . Points . . . East
the conductor calls
in that old plainchant

and a girl with a suitcase
steals down the porch stairs.
Rivers . . . Bridges . . . Cornfields
with stalks as tasseled
as the plaited hair of children
all over Kansas, falling asleep
to the loon-like call

of trains.  I board
one more time, sensing
the quicksilver tracks,
how they branch towards a future
where I've long since
been carried, swaying
and only half awake.

(from A Fraction of Darkness)

 

 

root canal

under the anesthetic
tiny gondoliers
sing to me

pizzicato
and I am
borne away

helpless as
childhood
as they pole

through the shadowed
waters
of the mouth

(from A Fraction of Darkness)

 

 

Memorial Garden, Queens

In this tenement
of headstones, the dead
jostle each other
underground
in a perpetual
rush hour, thigh bone
to thigh bone.

Holding my breath
I drive by, dreaming
of cremation, of ashes
rising on their stems of smoke
to flower
in the empty spaces
between stars.

(from The Imperfect Paradise)

 

 

Grief

How did your grief
enter my poem?
Now it is an unwieldy package
between us—
you balanced it better alone.
Your son's cells
close down
one by one,
like lights going out
in a small town
after dark.
Writing of it
I must wash and wash my hands
of the ink.

(from Aspects of Eve)

 

 

White

"I love white things.  Oh, I love white."   

—Andrew Wyeth

In the bright spectrum of years
white encompasses all colors:
the baby's milk days—
two breasts like hemispheres
of earth seen from far space;
the delight of sheets,
the final sheet waiting
to cover the blank face;
shells, bread, the moon
over the cold lake;
a sky packed tight with snow
like crowds held by roped barriers
that finally break; the mildness
of flesh, the brutalities of bone;
and always, always the bare page
demanding its poem.

(first appeared in Dryad)

 

 

Baseball

When you tried to tell me
baseball was a metaphor

for life: the long, dusty travail
around the bases, for instance,

to try to go home again;
the Sacrifice for which you win

approval but not applause;
the way the light closes down

in the last days of the season—
I didn't believe you.

It's just a way of passing
the time, I said.

And you said: that's it.
Yes.

 

(from An Early Afterlife)

 

 

Home for Thanksgiving

The gathering family
throws shadows around us,
it is the late afternoon
of the family.

There is still enough light
to see all the way back,
but at the windows
that light is wasting away.

Soon we will be nothing
but silhouettes: the sons'
as harsh
as the fathers'.

Soon the daughters
will take off their aprons
as trees take off their leaves
for winter.

Let us eat quickly—
let us fill ourselves up.
The covers of the album are closing
behind us.

 

(from Setting The Table)











                                    

 

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A CLOSER LOOK: Linda Pastan

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