Monday, February 6, 2023

Remembering Linda Pastan

     On January 30, the wonderful and versatile poet, Linda Pastan (1932-2023) died.  Here at the Poetry Foundation website is a brief bio of Pastan along with ninety-six of her poems -- including the mathy poems "Arithmetic Lesson: Infinity" and "Counting Backwards".   This link leads to previous mentions of Pastan and her work in tis blog.  And below, one of my favorites of her poems, "Algebra" -- which I also posted at this link back in November, 2013.

Algebra     by Linda Pastan

        I used to solve equations easily.
        If train A left Sioux Falls
        at nine o'clock, traveling
        at a fixed rate,
        I knew when it would meet train B.
        Now I wonder if the trains will crash;
        or else I picture naked limbs
        through Pullman windows, each
        a small vignette of longing.   

        And I knew X, or thought I did,
        shuttled it back and forth
        like a poor goat
        across the equal sign.
        X was the unknown on a motor bike,
        those autumn days when leaves flew past
        the color of pencil shavings.
        Obedient as a genie, it gave me answers
        to what I thought were questions.

        Unsolved equations later, and winter now,
        I know X better than I did.
        His is the scarecrow's bitter mouth
        sewn shut in cross-stitch;
        the footprint of a weasel on snow.
        X is the unknown assailant.
        X marks the spot
        towards which we speed like trains,
        at a fixed rate.

"Algebra" is in Pastan's collection Carnival Evening:  New and Selected Poems 1968 - 1998  (W. W, Norton, 1998).

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