A Birthday Memory

February 25, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY, Poet Laureate: It’s become kind of commonplace to say that there are no public figures that we respect and admire anymore, particularly in political life. In fact, many of us admired and respected the late congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, very much. This is a poem I wrote thinking about Barbara Jordan and the admiration she invoked in me and many other people. In the poem, I try to compare the excellence that she represented as an ideal with another, maybe easier, certainly different ideal embodied by the legend or myth or belief of the fall from Eden and Eve as first perfect and then fallen.

The poem has a long title: “On ‘Eve Tempted by the Serpent’ by David Defendente Ferrari, and in Memory of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan of Texas.”

“Rare spirit, remembered now with a pang
Of half-forgotten clarity or density
A quality, quilled, a learned freshness

Unshattered, though not perfect, not Eden, not 
This rippled meander through newborn islands 
These parentless leaves and branches, tender

This green marsh, fresh, the blue, the white feet 
Of our adolescent mother, myths of 
Perfection imagined just before unperfecting

Itself as if by impulse. And grinning 
Cynically in a tree bearded bignose already 
Stuck on his tube of body the Crawler we

The tempter, we the corrupted, with no notion 
Where bright spirits are culled our very 
Admiration a self-exculpation Who

Is this strange bird we say as if the 
Achieved idea were a sport the discovery 
Of a parrot, gaudy escapee from some

Domestic cage into azure margins 
Of California crested stranger it joined 
A band of crows flew and fed with them

Conducted itself as one brilliant 
Crow, we prefer that to this other 
Realized excellence eloquence made of our

Same eggs and flowers and waters plumed 
As we are, no feathered exception immune 
To that first painted April when we fell

We fowl of a feather we feel we fail 
And not that she made it look difficult 
Or easy but possible and we fall