Poetry Sunday: “Plunder: to a young friend,”
by Linda Pastan

Plunder: to a young friend

On a day of windy transition, one season to the next,
you spoke of helping your mother close her house,
of the choices you had to make—what to discard,
what to keep—as if it were your childhood itself
waiting to be plundered.  You kept a Persian rug,
all reds and golds, to walk on every day,
keeping the past alive under your feet;
those nested Russian dolls you played with
as a girl: grandmother, mother, daughter;
four bentwood chairs wrenched from their table.

I listened, thinking I’d be next to try
to crowd a lifetime of things
into a shrinking universe of boxes.
I’ve started dismantling my life already, throwing
out letters from people I remember loving,
choosing among books—this one to stay,
that one to go– as if I were a judge
sentencing some to death, the rest
to the purgatory of the emptying shelf.
Perhaps I should simply burn it all.

But don’t we live on in what we’ve left behind?
In the fading twilight of Kodak? In our sterling
knives and spoons tarnishing on a grandchild’s
casual table? Don’t these become
a kind of museum of the afterlife?
The Pharaohs had it right. They took
their whole world with them—vases and chests,
gilded statues, jewels—plundered perhaps,
but not for a thousand years.
Nefertiti’s tomb has never been found.


“Plunder” first appeared in The Paris Review.


Linda Pastan grew up in New York City, graduated from Radcliffe College in 1954, and received an MA from Brandeis University. She has published 14 volumes of poetry, most recently Insomnia (Norton 2017). Two of her books have been finalists for the National Book Award, one for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Pastan was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995. She taught for several years at American University and was on the staff of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference for 20 years. She has won numerous awards, including The Radcliffe Distinguished Alumni Award and The Maurice English Award. In 2003, she won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement. Pastan lives with her husband in Potomac, Maryland. They have three children and seven grandchildren.


Poet’s Note

I have lived in a house, in the middle of six acres of wood, for 45 years. But as my 86th birthday approaches, I am reluctantly thinking of downsizing. Thus the poem.

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  • ellens ue jacobson May 23, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Loved this poem. Reminds me of a story about a woman who’s cleaning out hermit’s attic after she died. She found a box labeled “String to small to save.” And yet the box was full of short strings! At 80 I am also downsizing: getting rid of books and clothes no longer needed, but still holding onto too much. IS that out way of holding onto life instead of letting go?

  • Jo Shafer May 20, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    So timely for me, this poem, as I’m going through the same plundering downsizing phase. Decluttering is the easy part. It’s the anxiety-ridden headache — note, not heartache — of getting the house ready for market before moving into a retirement condominium that’s smaller but just as lovely as our place. Thank you for shedding your insight through this piece.