Pauline Is Falling

By Jean Nordhaus b. 1939 Jean Nordhaus
                                             from the cliff's edge,
kicking her feet in panic and despair
as the circle of light contracts and blackness
takes the screen. And that
is how we leave her, hanging—though we know
she will be rescued, only to descend
into fresh harm, the story flowing on,
disaster and reprieve—systole, diastole—split
rhythm of a heart that hungers

only to go on. So why is this like my mother,
caged in a railed bed, each breath,
a fresh installment in a tortured tale
of capture and release? Nine days
she dangled, stubborn,
over the abyss, the soft clay crumbling
beneath her fingertips, until she dropped
with a little bird cry of surprise
into the swift river below.

Here metaphor collapses, for there was no love
to rescue her, no small boat
waiting with a net to fish her out,
although the water carried her,
and it was April when we buried her
among the weeping cherries and the waving
flags and in the final fade, a heron
breasted the far junipers
to gain the tremulous air and swim away.

Source: Poetry (March 2000).


Poet Jean Nordhaus earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Barnard College and a PhD in German literature from Yale University. She is the author of the poetry chapbook A Language of Hands (1982) as well as the collections A Bracelet of Lies (1987), The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn (2002), and Innocence (2006).
Exploring the dramatic monologue in The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn, Nordhaus depicts the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Health & Illness, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Relationships, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Elegy, Metaphor, Mixed

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

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.