American Life in Poetry: Column 086
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Linda Pastan, who lives in Maryland, is a
master of the kind of water-clear writing that
enables us to see into the depths. This is a
poem about migrating birds, but also about how
it feels to witness the passing of another year.
are heading south, pulled
by a compass in the genes.
They are not fooled
by this odd November summer,
though we stand in our doorways
wearing cotton dresses.
We are watching them
as they swoop and gather--
the shadow of wings
falls over the heart.
When they rustle among
the empty branches, the trees
must think their lost leaves
have come back.
The birds are heading south,
instinct is the oldest story.
They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.
Reprinted from "The Imperfect Paradise,"
by Linda Pastan. Copyright (c) 1988 by Linda Pastan.
With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton &
Company, Inc. Ms. Pastan's most recent book is
"Queen of a Rainy Country," W.W. Norton & Company,
Inc., 2006. This weekly column is supported by The
Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the
Department of English at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept