Linda Pastan

Linda Pastan’s 13th book of poems, Traveling Light, has recently been published by Norton. She was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991-1995 and has been a finalist twice for the National Book Award. In 2003 she won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.


Like a Bird



Despair is like a bird. Not a crow with its dark
wings, its shadows
over the heart;
not a raptor,
all appetite.
Despair is a sparrow,
no color at all,
pecking away
at crumbs,



Joy is like a bird.
Not a robin, with
its arrogant breast;
not a mockingbird— ventriloquist of the air.
Joy is a white ibis,
glimpsed once or twice,
its great wings opening
like theatre curtains
onto a blue
dazzle of sea. 


From my father comes the dark current
that runs under the surface of my life;    

from my mother the old need
to please at any cost.

The residue of memory is honey
on the hands, so hard

to wash away.  Let my demons rest
in the coffin of the page,

not in my sons and daughter
who speak another dialect,

though we signal to each other
from the separate shores

of youth and age.  I leave them only
a map in the genes

and a residue of memory like honey
on the hands.

I leave them consolations
of sun on a lifted face,

faithful as the nurse who pulls
up the blinds each morning

to call the sleeping children
back to the world.

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