Folk Tale

By Linda Pastan b. 1932 Linda Pastan

All knobs and knuckles, hammer knees and elbows   
they were a multitude of two, man and woman   
dwelling as one tight flesh. In hallways,   
on stairs vaguely lit by twilight, in their own   
meager bed they would collide. . . veer off. . .
collide, like aging children aiming those   
bumper cars, madly in Kansas Coney Islands.
Blue sparks jumped on their ceiling, lit her stockings   
strangling his faucet, his fist plumbing
her shoulder's depth for blood. Until, as it is told,
they brought the cow into the house, straight from the barn,   
oppressed for years with milk. They tied it,   
lowing, to the icebox, pastured it
on rubber plants and dusty philodendrons.
They brought the horse in next, leaving the plow   
like an abandoned aircraft, nose down
in rusting fields of corn. The pig, the donkey,   
the rooster with its crowd of hens, they even
brought a neighbor's child complete with spelling words   
and scales that wandered up and down the untuned   
piano searching for roost as the chickens   
searched and the cow, nuzzling the humming   
frigidaire as if it were a calf.


So they survived with all that cuckoo's brood,   
hearing the horse stamp through the floorboards,
the donkey chew the welcome mat, and all night long   
through tumbling barricades of sleep the yeasty   
rise and fall of breath. By blue television light   
they milked and gathered, boiled the placid eggs   
that turned up everywhere, laughed with the child,   
fed the pig, and glimpsed each other's rounded limbs
reflected for a moment in the copper
washtub or around the feathers of a settling hen.   
And winter passed; and spring; and summer,
The child left first, all braided, for the school bus.   
The cow died of old griefs. The horse dreaming   
of harness, the pig of swill, the donkey
of what magnitude of straw, broke out one night   
and emptied the ark. Man and woman leaning   
on brooms stood at the kitchen door and waved,   
saw through a blaze of autumn the cock's comb   
like one last, bright leaf flutter and disappear.   
Then jostling a bit, for ceremony's sake,
they turned and lost themselves in so much space.

Linda Pastan, "Folk Tale" from Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Copyright © 1998 by Linda Pastan.  Reprinted with the permission of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. 

Source: Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Linda Pastan b. 1932

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

 Linda  Pastan


Poet Linda Pastan was raised in New York City but has lived for most of her life in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. In her senior year at Radcliffe College, Pastan won the Mademoiselle poetry prize (Sylvia Plath was the runner-up). Immediately following graduation, however, she decided to give up writing poetry in order to concentrate on raising her family. After ten years at home, her husband urged her to return . . .

Continue reading this biography

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.