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Tuesday’s Poet: Two by Linda Pastan

Allen's Hummingbird (c) 2010 Richard Beban

The Flood, 2005

When Noah prepared his ark

he had precise instructions from above:

so many ribs of Cyprus covered with reeds,

so many portholes and doors

and where to place them. He was told

how to choose the animals—the pair

of ostriches trying to hide their heads,

the hummingbirds hovering

over the cardinals’ red wings,

pigs and camels—all the species

already invented or continuing to evolve.

The rain started slowly: a mist,

a drizzle—drumbeats in the distance becoming

a roar, a world, a very universe of water,

and in those stormy howls Noah discerned

the cadence of punishment.

At the end, God’s temper blew itself out

in a final furious burst of wind.

The dove was sent to find dry land,

the sun returned as if it had simply

Taken some casual detour, and God went

About his usual business

somewhere else.

Who worried about the children

still stranded on their failing rooftops;

the abandoned animals

who didn’t make it to the ark;

the way so many deaths seemed

an almost incidental part of the story?

Did anyone give instructions

from above, and when?

And if there was sin involved,

wasn’t it miles north of the Delta?


We are slowly

undermined. Grain

by grain…

inch by inch…


It happens as we watch.

The waves move their long row

of scythes over the beach.

It happens as we sleep,

the way the clock’s hands

move continuously

just out of sight,

but more like an hourglass

than a clock

for here sand

is running out.

We wake to water.

Implacably lovely

is this view

though it will swallow

us whole, soon

there will be

nothing left

but view.

We have tried a seawall.

We have tried prayer.

We have planted grasses

on the bank, small tentacles,

hooks of green that catch

on nothing. For the wind

does its work, the water

does its sure work.

One day the sea will simply

take us. The children

press their faces to the glass

as if the windows were portholes,

and the house fills

with animals: two dogs,

a bird, cats– we are becoming

an ark already.

The gulls will follow

our wake.

We are made of water anyway,

I can feel it in the yielding

of your flesh, though sometimes

I think that you are sand,

moving slowly, slowly

from under me.

from Carnival Evening (Norton 1998)

Linda Pastan wrote the Friends this “place biography” about the nearest body of water that enriches her life:

We spend part of the year on Nantucket Island, and our nearest body of water—some 100 feet away, is Nantucket Sound—you can almost make out the mainland in the distance. Actually we are only 15 feet from the edge of a bluff over the beach, and our house will fall onto that beach and into the ocean one day, the only question is how soon. Since I am already 77 and have lived here forty years, perhaps I won’t be around to see it. (We were young and ignorant when we built on this spot and had hardly even heard of erosion.) Meanwhile, I am hypnotized by our view—so changeable hour by hour, even moment by moment. The wind has its way over the surface of the water, making ripples and small waves; the shadows of vagrant clouds turn areas from blue to green, and on some days turquoise or even purple. Today, on the other hand, the fog has moved in and everything is gray, we don’t see the water at all, just hear it—the perfect way to fall asleep.