The Safecracker

By Linda Pastan b. 1932 Linda Pastan
On nights when the moon seems impenetrable—
a locked porthole to space;
when the householder bars his windows   
and doors, and his dog lies until dawn,
one jeweled eye open; when the maiden sleeps   
with her rosy knees sealed tightly together,   
on such nights the safecracker sets to work.   
Axe . . . Chisel . . . Nitroglycerin . . .
Within the vault lie forty thousand   
tons of gold; the heaped up spoils   
of Ali Baba's cave; the secrets of the molecule.   
He sands his fingertips
to feel the subtle vibrations
of wheel lining up, just so, with wheel.   
His toolmarks are his fingerprints.   
And now a crack appears on the side   
of the egg, a single fault line,
and within: the golden yolk just waiting.
A kind of wind . . . a door flies open . . . a glitter   
of forsythia forced out of the branch.   
With smoothest fingertips you touch   
the locked cage of my ribs . . . just so.   
My knees fall open. And Cleopatra smiles,   
whose own Egyptians first invented the lock.

Linda Pastan, "The Safecracker" from The Imperfect Paradise, published by W.W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 1988 by Linda Pastan. Permission granted by the author through the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc.

Source: Carnival Night: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998 (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

Subjects Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Romantic Love, Desire

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 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

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Men & Women, Romantic Love, Desire

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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.