Linda Pastan: Poems Summary

Linda Pastan: Poems Summary

The Answering Machine

Linda Pastan begins this poem by describing how she rings a deceased person and hears their voice on the answering machine, even though they have been dead for weeks. She describes this as like a young ghost desiring human contact and communication. She asks whether she should leave message that tells of how their lies have been ripped apart before, but that this time, it can't be fixed quickly or in an easy manner. She describes this disappointment using the imagery of material being ripped and mended again.

The poem then begins a narrative across three stanzas, where Pastan describes her mourning period. The house of the deceased is becoming ever emptier, as people tidy up rugs and books, whilst drinking coffee at the old table and listening to these messages on the answering machine. She describes this machine as haunted with the voice of the deceased, which seems more real and reachable than the person in photographs or the identity from fingerprints. She then places herself in the season of Autumn, the first experienced without her lost companion. She relays her feelings of shame and need to resist, while explaining her compulsion to dial the number again. She has memorized it, knowing it in her heart, and feels a great sense of gratitude and thanks for answering machines, that unknowingly give her this ability to listen to the voice of her lost, loved one. She listens, and then hangs up.

After Minor Surgery

This poems describes the moments after some minor surgery - Pastan notes it as a dress rehearsal, where the body acts like a dedicated and faithful lover beginning to lose their faithfulness and starting to betray her. She describes the body further, as a passenger on journey that will last a while, hearing the conductor announce the name of the next stop, which is the first. It makes promises to her out of fear and also cunning, but it is aware it cannot keep these promises.

Beauty Shop

The poem begins with a quote from the mouth of Samson, addressing the Philistines with two questions, about what could be sweeter than honey is, and what can be stronger than a lion. The first stanza reveals the character of a barber, named for Michael, an archangel, and twice-born. His hair-cut indents a halo-like shape around the writer's head, making her seem like a nun, or perhaps a Jewish bride.

The second stanza reveals that the writer is seeing, and therefore remembering, the shape of the skull, when the hair is wet and brushed across it. She remembers the process of her grandma putting braids in her hair, which hurt a lot and caused her eyes to be sore. Her grandmas wore a silver locket around her neck, which contained the hair of her child, who died a long time ago.

Next, the place, assumedly the Beauty shop, is described as smelling like flowers, but also burnt hair. The girls that work there keep their eyes lowered and manicure the women's nails, which are described as a row of shields. The writer explains that she, and those around her, desire to leave the beauty shop completely transformed, essentially someone different to how they walked in.

She digresses to describe a time, when standing in front of a painting in Rome, 'Sacred and Profane Love,' by Titian, she looked upon the women in it and their hair, and contemplated how each one could be identified individually. She reveals that she used to cut the hair of her lover by herself, and that his hair was curly, like the wool shaven from sheep. It used to carpet the floor, and later on, it was only her long, swinging hair that separated them. Finally, she describes a sequence of events and items - a crack, trigger and shirt. She crosses her palm with silver and feels the pillars shake.


Pastan describes a kingdom where the sun does not set and there seems no entrance or exit. There is a sea there, but no tide. She depicts the egg as a moon that glows with a faint light in the barn, which is like its galaxy. It appears to be safe, except for the thunder caused by the spoon that cracks with lightening delicately.

The Invalid

The subject of the poem, the invalid person, is portrayed lying sprawled on a bed, looking much like Leonardo's depiction of the study of anatomy. The naval is determined as the center of this universe, with pills strewn across the sheets becoming unknown and unidentified stars.

Pastan then contemplates life and its value. She states that the invalid's situation is less than life in their own eyes, but returns it is surely more than death. His situation becomes an in between area amidst matter and energy. Pastan tells the patient that although their symptoms tend to change as the weeks move on, their journey always seems to map back to this scene, lying in bed. She relates this scene to an image of a nineteenth Century poetess, that spends much time lying on her chaise lounge, accompanied by her tiny dog, which is black in color. It is cradled in her pale arm. Belladonna is blamed for making the eyes unfathomable, just like one of the poems written in a feverish state.

Update this section!

You can help us out by revising, improving and updating this section.

Update this section

After you claim a section you’ll have 24 hours to send in a draft. An editor will review the submission and either publish your submission or provide feedback.