From the Archive | More Poetry of Linda Pastan

By | Jul 24, 2023


The following poems by Linda Pastan were printed in Moment between 1975 and 2015.



The rabbis wrote:

although it is forbidden

to touch a dying person,

Nevertheless, if the house

catches fire

he must be removed

from the house.



I say,

and whom may I touch then,

aren’t we all



You smile

your old negotiator’s smile

and ask:

but aren’t all our houses



To see this poem in its original context, click here.



At his right hand


At his left hand


ahead of him

the yahrzeit glass;

behind him


and above his head

all the letters of the alphabet

to choose from.


To see this poem in its original context, click here.



In Masaccio’s “Expulsion

From the Garden”

how benign the angel seems,

like a good civil servant

he is merely enforcing

the rules. I remember

these faces from Fine Arts 13;

I was young then

to think that the loss of innocence

was just about Sex.

Now I see Eve covering

her breasts with her hands

and I know it is not to hide them

but only to keep them

from all she must know

is to follow

from Abel on one,

Cain on the other.


To see this poem in its original context, click here.



In the middle of the century,

in the middle of the middle class

I stood on a dressmaker’s wooden stool

fixed forever at twelve

in a constellation

of silver pins.


And once I kissed the milliner’s shabby son

while my mother tried on hats.

We saw her face rising

beyond the door whitened in anger,

circled in planetary felt—

he wore a yarmulka.


In the shtetl I would have died

three times in childbirth.

Instead washed clean by soap

Opera, me peasant cheekbones rouged

in city lights, they told me:

Rise and Shine.


Tonight I listen to Isaac Bashevis Singer

speak in the Yiddish accent of my grandfather.

How do I write of ghettos

who feel at home in drafty English houses

sipping my tea from porcelain cups

instead of jelly glasses?


O sing a song of assimilation—

that oldest lullaby

I have tried to forget the words,

but my genes are suspended

Like half note down

its strict, musical staff.


To see this poem in its original context, click here.



David means beloved.

Peter is a rock. They name me

Linda which means beautiful

in Spanish—a language

I never learned.

Even naked

we wear our names.

In the end we leave them behind

carved into desktops

and gravestones, inscribed

on the flyleaf of Bibles

where on another page

God names the generations

of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.


Homer cast a spell with names

giving us the list

of warriors and their ships

I read my children to sleep by.

There are as many name underfoot

as leaves in October; 

they burn as briefly on the tongue,

and their smoke could darken

the morning sky to dusk.

Remember the boy of seven

who wandered the Holocaust alone

and lost not his life

but his name? Or the prince whose name

was stolen with his kingdom?


When I took my husband’s name

and fastened it to mine

I was as changed

as a child

when the priest sprinkles it

with water and the name

that saves it a place in heaven.

My grandfather gave me a name

In Hebrew I never heard,

But it died with him.

If I had taken that name

who would I be,

and if he calls me now

how will I know to answer?


To see this poem in its original context, click here.



There was something about the aide’s voice—

not gentle but comforting

in its very plainness


(like Shaker furniture

or glass milk bottles

on a stoop)


that opened my mother’s eyes

to the quickly fading flowers

in my hand—the color


of spots of blood on the sheet

the nurses had somehow missed.

The smell


of anesthetic lingered,

like the scent of my dead father’s

aftershave, but the voice was asking


such a simple question (tea

or some juice?) that my mother politely

returned to life and answered.


To see this poem in its original context, click here.



They hid in barber shops,

in steam baths,

and on the benches

of small concrete parks,

spending their few

remaining coins of laughter

on each other, swallowing

Humiliation, like schnapps,

in one gulp.


But tears were there

like secret tidal pools

doomed by salt. Though

once they had discarded

the villages of their fathers,

here they remained strangers,

choosing the enigmatic life

of fish or bees: silence

or that low dangerous hum.


To see this poem in its original context, click here.



Time has had its way with me—why not?

The world will scarcely notice when I leave;

The weather will continue—cold or hot—

the wind may keen, but elements don’t grieve.

This body that I have to leave behind

is nothing that I ever valued much—

The nose too large, the skin a drying rind,

each leg, once shapely, now a simple crutch.

If only I could take a book along,

a glass of wine—champagne would be the best.

If only I could right all I’ve done wrong,

the grave might simply be a place to rest,

The clock reveals its round, impassive face.

Life was a mystery; Death a commonplace.


To see this poem in its original context, click here.

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