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A Birthday Memory

In honor of the late Barbara Jordan, Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky reads a poem for his hero.

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  • 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 pangOf half-forgotten clarity or densityA 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

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