Ask the moon. Ask what it has witnessed: five poems by Linda Pastan

The Happiest Day

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day–
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere–
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.


I Married You

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naive ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen.
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.


I Am Learning To Abandon The World

I am learning to abandon the world
before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon
and snow, closing my shades
against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.
I have given up melodic lines of hills,
moving to a flat, tuneless landscape.
And every night I give my body up
limb by limb, working upwards
across bone, towards the heart.
But morning comes with small
reprieves of coffee and birdsong.
A tree outside the window
which was simply shadow moments ago
takes back its branches twig
by leafy twig.
And as I take my body back
the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap

as if to make amends.


The Answering Machine

I call and hear your voice
on the answering machine
weeks after your death,
a fledgling ghost still longing
for human messages.
Shall I leave one, telling
how the fabric of our lives
has been ripped before
but that this sudden tear will not
be mended soon or easily?
In your emptying house, others
roll up rugs, pack books,
drink coffee at your antique table,
and listen to messages left
on a machine haunted
by the timbre of your voice,
more palpable than photographs
or fingerprints. On this first day
of this first fall without you,
ashamed and resisting
but compelled, I dial again
the number I know by heart,
thankful in a diminished world
for the accidental mercy of machines,

then listen and hang up.


Why Are Your Poems So Dark?

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished
.
without the dark stain
of alphabets?
.
When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.
Instead he invented
ebony and crows
.
and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.
.
Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”
 .
Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.

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Ask the moon. Ask what it has witnessed: five poems by Linda Pastan

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