What lyrical poetry can do—but rarely does—sounds impossible. It can blur the distinction between thought and feeling, between speech and song. And though it can’t stop time, it can give the moment a form that lasts. Linda Pastan’s poetry does all these things.
When she died this winter at the age of 90, Pastan left us 15 exquisite books—from A Perfect Circle of Sun (1971) to Almost an Elegy (2022). For those of us who knew her, the poems in these volumes have a different aura now. There’s something new in their spare lines, always mysterious and lovely—a new poignancy, a new eeriness, which may be the memory of her living voice.
In her books, she’s free of time. She’s a girl in her childhood bedroom, a young mother, a grieving daughter. She’s at a window in her house in the woods, watching the leaves fall—or it’s the end of summer and she’s leaving the island. In her books, she’s every age she ever was…the queen of a rainy country.
Moment has been honored to feature Linda Pastan’s work over the years. In the last weeks of her life, she wrote a poem called “The Mysteries” and shared it with me. It’s a last word of sorts, an almost serene confession of bafflement. How to explain our bounded lives with their joys and griefs? How to explain our intractable illusions? We’re grateful to the Pastan family for allowing us to publish this poem for the first time.
—Jody Bolz, Poetry Editor
How to explain the poem
that writes itself after
the final poem, after
the book has closed;
after a sheet covers
the still face,
the sheet itself seeming to flicker.
Or the green leaf emerging
in coldest winter on a branch
that seemed dead
but was simply biding its time.
How to explain endings
that come even before
We know the earth
circles the sun,
but here at the window, my eyes
tell me that it’s the sun sinking
in the elusive west.
Linda Pastan (1932-2023) was the author of 15 books of poetry. Twice nominated for the National Book Award, Pastan taught at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference for 20 years, served as poet laureate of Maryland from 1991-1995 and received the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement.
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