Linda Pastan, “Q and A”

Linda Pastan
photo: Margaretta K. Mitchell

I thought I couldn’t be surprised:
“Do you write on a computer?” someone
asks, and “Who are your favorite poets?”
and “How much do you revise?”

But when the very young woman
in the fourth row lifted her head
and without irony inquired:
“Did you write

your Emily Dickinson poem
because you like her work,
or did you know her personally?”
I entered another territory.

“Do I really look that old?”
I wanted to reply, or “Don’t
they teach you anything?”
or “What did you just say?”

The laughter that engulfed
the room was partly nervous,
partly simple hilarity.
I won’t forget

that little school, tucked
in a lovely pocket of the South,
or that girl whose face
was slowly reddening.

Surprise, like love, can catch
our better selves unawares.
“I’ve visited her house,” I said.
“I may have met her in my dreams.”

Traveling Light is the thirteenth collection of Linda Pastan’s poems. “Ash” appeared in The Atlantic, while “The Burglary” was published in The New Yorker. The New Republic published “Years After the Garden,” and The Paris Review published “Eve on Her Deathbed.” Nimrod published “Counting Backwards,” but it’s available online through the Poetry Foundation’s website, which also hosts “On the Steps of the Jefferson Memorial” (first published in Prairie Schooner).

Plus, you can hear Pastan read “Acorns” at Slate.

26 July 2012 | poetry |