Linda Pastan

Three Skulls on an Oriental Rug

The Museum Issue
Volume 10: 1, Winter 2009

Three Skulls on an Oriental Rug, Cezanne, Oil on Canvas

Whose skulls are these,
and isn’t it dread
that informs our pleasure

in this canvas?
A still life, we’re told,
is simply the marriage

of form and color to create
a design—a razzle dazzle circuit
between eye and heart.

So if the objects
are skulls it shouldn’t matter,
although we each carry

our own skeleton with us,
skull and all,
up the marble staircase

and into this gallery.
To leach the personal
from the abstract

is a different kind of death.
What we see is more
than a brilliant oriental shape

bleeding its dense
flowery purples and reds
under three ovoid objects.


Linda Pastan is the author of fifteen book of poems, most recently A Dog Runs Through It (W.W. Norton, 2018) and Insomnia (W.W. Norton, 2015). Two of her books were finalists for the National Book Award: PM/AM (1982) and Carnival Evening (1998). She was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991-1995 and winner of the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Other honors include the Dylan Thomas award, a Pushcart Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, and the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. She lives in Chevy Chase, MD. To read more by this author: Evolving City Issue, Vol. 8:4, Fall 2007 DC Places Issue, Vol. 7:3, Summer 2006 Wartime Issue, Vol. 7:2, Spring 2006 Six Poems, Vol. 6:3, Summer 2005 Whitman Issue, Vol. 6:1, Winter 2004