Poems

That Was a Way of Putting It . . .

Golden

My red-furred dog is floating, paddling
under the dark branches of bay, the summer alder.
How green the pool he courses in, circling
in the eddies of leaves, bits of foam
from a careful rapid catching the corners
of his mouth. My red-furred dog, he
smiles as he always does in the pool of green,
this quiet pool that is lucent as an apple kiss.

–Paul Willis


How It Happens When It Happens

The line speaks
before the poem
the phrase
before the line
but
when it happens
it happens
because the word
on talk’s screenful of begging children
makes a stir,
as at the moment when,
passed from one incumbent
ivy leaf to a lower,
with its slimy foot
at last
let’s go
the snail
so that the pendant
leaf, let go, by its springing sky-
ward speaks
thanks
to the watcher
for watching
so long

–Randall J. VanderMey


Cold bench by a pond.
Bird swoops, drops a red berry.
Amazing! Bull’s eye!

–Randall J. VanderMey


Early February

This is a sad, grey time–
pleasure here and there, but little
that deepens into joy–
not even grief that drives the soul
to utter its de profundis
and so be widened into prayer.
Only the feeling of nothing to rise to:
neutered moments of waiting, wanting
something, not knowing
what.

Laundry to be done and breakfast
cleared away.
Grace doesn’t always come as a rainbow.
Sometimes it hovers like a pewter sky
tucked in around the treetops,
bringing the landscape close to the eye.
Still, grace comes on a day like this
in odd disguises:
traction on my boots,
the man chipping ice off the library steps,
fat truck tracks to drive in–
and all the shades of grey.
For the gifts of greyness let us give thanks:
cobblestones and flagstones and boulders of granite,
clapboard houses, dark-shuttered and lamplit in the afternoon,
snow on asphalt,
pencil and charcoal,
the naked stretch of steel that protects us
at the bridge’s edge,
old movies from a kinder time,
the wolf and the owl–hungry and hidden–
the rabbit’s fur,
the hawk’s eye,
the dolphin’s back,
the cocoon where a caterpillar
quietly works out
its salvation.

–Marilyn Chandler McEntyre


THE WASTE LAND

Review Questions

I. The Burial of the Dead

Must April, perhaps, be cruel to be kind?
Where’s the anguish in stirring and breeding?
What is desire awakening from?
Where are the memories leading?
How does summer appear all at once with the rain?
And how can it be so surprising?
Why the lapse into German (requiring a note)?
And what is the hearer surmising?
What is the sound, here, of one German line?
Why recall the archduke and the sled?
And why are the mountains a place to feel free?
And where have her memories led?
Who is the “son of man” here? Is it I?
What are the images, broken?
Where are the rock and the tree and the shade?
Whose is the voice that has spoken?
Why is the song of the sailor so sad?
And the scene in the garden so haunting?
How is the passing of time like the tide?
And why is such innocence daunting?
Is it Tristan or Wagner we hear in this line?
What part of all stories is song?
Who is the speaker, and why has he held
this one moment in memory so long?
Is Madame Sosostris’ bad cold just a joke?
What can the Tarot cards tell us?
What does this miasma of images do?
How does the cryptic compel us?
Why is death linked with water so much in this poem?
And why dessication and thirst?
Why is knowing not knowing? Does prophecy sell?
And which of these stories came first?
What can the horoscope add to the cards?
What does the sky tell a sailor?
Of what must one be very careful these days?
Where do the seer’s skills fail her?
Who is the crowd that flows over the bridge?
Is this London or Florence or Hell?
What does the stroke of nine hours recall?
And why the dead sound of the bell?
Why does Stetson, old comrade in arms, not reply?
And how would a corpse sprout and bloom?
Why protect what is buried from digging dogs’ nails?
And how should this speaker presume?

II. A Game of Chess

How many reflections of fire can be found
in this scene, so syntactically twined?
Why is the Cupidon hiding his eyes?
What do chair and chess game bring to mind?
Why is the speaker so troubled by scents
from the rich, “strange, synthetic perfumes”?
How do “drowning” and “stirring” here bring back to mind
the feelings cruel April exhumes?
Think how lovely the word “laquearia” is,
and what pleasure it gave to the poet;
and the swirling ascent of the fumes to sea-wood
inverts what Dantesque image–do you know it?
Why is light “sad” in this colorful place?
Why the story of Philomel told?
What makes other stories into “withered stumps”
like an image of history gone cold?
What to make of the image of spread, glowing hair
that “glows” into words and is still?
How does it image the fraying of nerves
and the voice of despair going shrill?
Are both speakers suffering in this scene? How?
What answer is given to her cry?
How does the “nothing,” repeated five times
ring with echoes of Shakespeare, and why?
How is ragtime a refuge for someone distraught?
What have modern men done to the Bard?
And how does the chess game create a safe space?
How are both chess and married life hard?
What are they waiting for, these two who speak?
Who will come knock at the door?
What is the threat in the sound of the wind?
What is the dialogue for?
How does this sad scene connect to the next,
comic but bleak in its turn?
What stake does the speaker have in her own tale?
And, hearing her, what do we learn?
What’s the ominous ring in the pubkeeper’s cry?
Why the story of Albert cut cut short?
And why introduce behind all the good-nights
Ophelia’s farewell to the court?

III. The Fire Sermon

What’s left, now the nymphs have departed the banks
of the Thames and the leaves are all gone?
And who are their heirs and successors?
And why does the mourner not speak loud or long?
How do we know that the summer is gone?
By what signals can this speaker tell?
What does he hear in the rattle of bones
that’s darker than Time to Marvell?
What king sits musing on loss when a rat
interrupts his Shakesperean dreams?
What glorious tales come, now bitter, to mind
as he hears technological screams?
Why is Philomel’s rape brought jarringly up
in this squalid and strange autumn scene?
And who is Eugenides? What does he want?
And what, pray, does “demotic” mean?
What loss do the words “violet hour” bespeak?
What offends blind Tiresias’ eyes?
How does “homeward” sound different with food out of tins
and a couch where stray underwear lies?
Why “carbuncular”? Why is the young man so sure
of the sexual favors he seeks?
And how has the prophet “foresuffered” this night
in the ancient, sad tales of the Greeks?
What accounts for the woman’s indifferent response?
What has changed since Olivia wept?
And how is the gramophone’s comfort unkind,
and her gesture somehow so inept?
Where is Ariel’s music now, here by the Strand?
What’s become of the Rhinemaidens’ song?
What purgatorial scene of false love
lies under the feet of the throng?
What radical loss of connection has come
to a poet whose vision has failed?
What burning remains when the prayer has been prayed?
When the last ship of Carthage has sailed?

IV. Death by Water

What is the whirlpool that draws Phlebas down
when the sailor has drawn his last breath?
And what is forgotten, and what still remains
of the soul after watery death?

V. What the Thunder Said

Is the thunder that cracked over Calvary’s hill
this same thunder announcing the spring?
Is he who was living now living again?
And the death we die cured of its sting?
Is it in the shadow beneath the red rock,
where the red faces snarl and sneer?
What mirage taunts the traveller panting with thirst?
And who is that third to appear?
What ghostly refrains and what hordes fill the cities?
In these mountains can you feel free?
What voices emerge from dry wells and dark towers?
What warning comes from the rooftree?
Amid this dark vision what question is uttered?
And “What have we given,” indeed?
What key is turning to each private hell?
And what would it take to be freed?
How does the Fisher prepare for his death?
Who watches the sinking bridge fall?
What silent word waits for the swallow to sing
at the foot of a crumbling wall?
By what ruined tower do fragments lie heaped?
What gives the mad writer release?
What wisdom survives in the waste land today?
And why is the final word “peace”?

–Marilyn Chandler McEntyre