Linda Pastan’s ‘The Happiest Day’

I heard Linda Pastan read her poetry at the AWP conference last week in Chicago. She’s a favorite of mine. She was speaking on the panel called “Women of a Certain Age” with Janet Burroway, Alicia Ostriker, Hilda Raz, and Rosellen Brown. Here’s one of Pastan’s poems from her collection Heroes in Disguise.

The Happiest Day

awp-2009-015It 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.

–Linda Pastan

Read “Architectural Detail” in New Beltway Poetry Issue

I’m very happy to announce that my poem “Architectural Detail” is published in the new issue of the online journal Beltway Poetry. Read “Architectural Detail” here.

I started writing this poem while I was on six weeks of grand jury duty in Washington, D.C. It was an awful experience of listening to countless drug cases mixed in with child abuse and child prostitution cases. During lunch breaks, I would slip away to the National Building Museum and rest my soul in its cathedral-like expanse. I liked watching the workers go about their daily routine. It calmed me. Below is a little intro to the newest issue of Beltway Poetry:

Beltway Poetry opens 2009 with a new issue devoted entirely to poems about museums.  Thirty-three poets write about museums, historical sites, and other public places devoted to preservation and exhibition.  The poems address the institutions and “their collections, their workers, and the many ways in which they fulfill their founders’ hopes of enlarging the scope of civic life,” as guest co-editor Maureen Thorson writes in her introduction.  “In these poems, poets engage in conversations with artists, their subjects, and with art itself. They stand in witness to the forces of history.”

Saundra Rose Maley asks King Tut,”…is there a crossing over/ Or is this life just what it is, a sandal strap/At best?”

Kendra Kopelke lets the woman in a Hopper painting speak: ” He put me here/like a candle/to ignite the room.”

Stephen Cushman imagines painter’s models, “posing in a yoga twist,/head going one way, torso another.”

David Gewanter writes of a museum store clerk, ” I love to see my mother behind//the counter, tidying up the fossil fish/and reptile rulers.”  Linda Pastan contemplates death from a safe distance, asking, ” Whose skulls are these,/and isn’t it dread/that informs our pleasure//in this canvas?”

Special thanks to Kim Roberts for her wonderful dedication to Beltway Poetry. Beltway Poetry Quarterly, now in its ninth year of online publication, is available for free online at For a free subscription, go to: