by Jonathan Vold

Thursday, June 30

Moleskin 3.8: Different Words

This is what I remember about my parents’ divorce: beyond the apparency of their separation, they spoke very little about it, at least around us kids, but now and then, quietly, we would hear different words like child support, group therapy, visitation schedules. Mom started dating, but with a certain reserve. Dad spent increased time with pastoral counseling services —counseling for pastors, the reason, it eventually occurred to me, that we had moved to Chicago, where the Lutheran Church had its clergy support system. I could not tell you the month or the year their divorce was finalized, but there was a day, probably sometime after Nixon resigned, that to my still continuing surprise, my mother’s picture appeared on one of the inner pages of the Tribune: she was among a crowd of picketers, rallying for divorce reform, and particularly for no-fault dissolutions and an increased recognition of the rights of co-parenting fathers. They called themselves EVE and ADAM, and Mom was holding up one of the ADAM signs.

Wednesday, June 29

Tending The Fire

Journal entries from June 1990, continued

I had a good talk with Dan tonight. We will be all right. God will take care of us.

And I had a great talk with Rebekah Choi at University Bible Fellowship.

Rebekah told a remarkable story about "wanting to die." She was looking inward during a sufferable time of her life —recuperating from kidney stone surgery —and with the persuasion of a chance antagonist's scold ("Stop worrying!") she got religion, so to speak. She still felt painfully mortal, but she decided that as long as she was going to die she may as well die for Jesus. But after a while it became apparent to her that it wasn’t all smooth sailing, this dying for Jesus. For one thing, at the end of each day she still worried, and sometimes so much that she couldn’t sleep. During the day, she kept herself busy dying for Jesus by attending bible studies, going to church, reading; but during the night, with nothing else to do, she was reminded again of her pain and it kept her awake. Well, one day, she “went fishing” on the college campus, and she suddenly found herself with five new students to study the bible with. She put everything she had into building a fellowship with these new students, and before she knew it she found herself feeling exhausted at night. And it was wonderful.

There’s no way I can tell Rebekah’s story as well as she did; it was beautifully told by her because it was a personal testimony. But I hope the sense of what she said stays with me.

I also had a visit with Josh today. The hospital room was crowded, so it wasn’t too personal, but maybe that was for the best. I look forward to a brotherly talk with him tomorrow, though, so I can tell him about my conversations with Dan and Rebekah.

[Footnote: The presence of University Bible Fellowship (UBF) at the University of Illinois at Chicago prompted a 1990 student newspaper editorial to call the organization an objectionable cult, but in the year I spent with UBF I did not find cause for concern. Its leaders promoted a protestant Christian theology, related to Korean Presbyterianism, with a focus on in-depth interactive bible study, encouraging students to devote as much time to studying the bible as they would to a college course with writing assignments, weekly meetings and homework. Weekly “sogams” were written, hymns were sung. I never cared for their three hour Sunday church services, preferring my Lutheran hour, but they still kept the weekday bible study door open for me.]

Tuesday, June 28

Seeking Conversation

Journal entries from June 1990, continued

Why doesn’t Steve Sullivan want to talk about God? I know, that’s a foolish question. But Steve is one of several bible belt fundamentalists who work with me at Maxrad. We went to dinner tonight at the end of our shift, and, being hungry for a discussion of faith, I looked forward to Steve bringing up God, and he didn’t. Maybe he’s not as much of a Christian as I had thought.

But here’s another question: Why doesn’t Jon Vold want to talk about God? Now that is a question I would do better to consider: I should realize that there is no good answer I can conclude with Steve as long as I cannot confess the answer for myself.

And really, the answer to Steve’s question, the question about Steve, is irrelevant, because if I even get close to the point where I can be rightly concerned about someone else’s conversational faith I would have to be talking about God all the time; if I were ever quiet about God, I would have no cause to judge others for being quiet; and if I was talking about God all the time, I would never have time to wonder why anyone having dinner with me was talking about anything else. I would be forever steering the conversation back to God, and we would be talking about God from dusk to dawn, and I wouldn’t let anyone get a secular word in edgewise.

I am not that way, though. God knows I don’t even try to be. I might have a million answers to why Jon Vold doesn’t talk aboutGod and not one answer is a good one: “I’m ashamed,” “I’m afraid,” “I want to talk about something else right now,” “I don’t know what to say,” and so on.

I am a sinner, Lord, perpetually falling short. I’ll use every excuse a million more times, and still I will come to you for forgiveness. You give it to me every time, too, and why I don’t talk about that to everyone I cannot say. All I can do, it seems, is ask for that forgiveness one more pitiful time.

Monday, June 27

Finding The Spark

Journal entries from June 1990, continued

On a Sunday morning, amidst my sins and thoughts and actions, amidst my shame and self-pity... I don’t know. Maybe there’s a bible verse, and maybe it will pop out at me by chance.  Let me go to where I do not usually go...

“Yahweh is all I have, I say to myself... (Lamentations 3:24a; New Jerusalem Bible).

...It is good to wait in silence for Yahweh to save... (Lamentations 3:26). sit in solitude and silence when it weighs heavy, to lay one’s head in the dust —maybe there is hope... (Lamentations 3:28-29)

...Yahweh, I called your name from the deep pit. You heard my voice... (Lamentations 3:55-56a).

...You are near when I call to you. You said, ‘Do not be afraid.’” (Lamentations 3:57).

“...Take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of God’s glory, wrap the cloak of God’s saving justice around you.” (Barach 5: 1-2a).

“The whole world will remember and return to Yahweh, all the families of nations bow down before him. For to Yahweh, ruler of the nations, belongs kingly power! All who prosper on earth will bow before him, all who go down to the dust will do reverence before him. And those who are dead, their descendants will serve him, will proclaim his name to the generations still to come; and these will tell of his saving justice to a people yet unborn...”  (Psalm 22: 27-31a).

Sunday, June 26

Sonnet #44

Picking up where we once left off,
as though the last twenty five years
weren’t amazingly full of rich, rich stories,
every season a lifetime unto itself,
every hour brimming with possibilities
—I could tell you a hundred of them,
a thousand if you had the time—
but where were we? Twenty five years ago,

before we set off on our unexpected
adventures, and who were we then,
before the news... You were twelve,
you were twenty two, I was twenty six,
and you: you were still in your teens,
not even thinking of all the world had
in store for you, even in the whisper of
a day. But rest now. We’ll talk more tomorrow.

—but I like all those stories of in-between,
I want to hold on to them, making sure
they don’t slip away or change into something
unrecognizable, forgettable. And you,
encouraging me with your eyes, your smile,
could almost make me forget the bookends.

Remember when? I could muster
a thousand smiles and turn around
to look at them a hundred times more:
Life, after all, is all about reliving,
and where we were once, and where
we are now, is only about forgiving.

Saturday, June 25

The Fifth Stage Speaking To The Fourth Stage

The Fifth Stage (Feeling Like The Sixth Stage) 
Speaking To The Fourth Stage (Reminding Him 
Of What He Learned In The Second Stage)

“I feel so old, having to be
helped with walking short distances,
the world ever holding my hand
and the room being a constant adventure.”

Old? I’m your older brother; let me be
the voice of wisdom through childish treble
with my pant legs rolled up: dignity
be damned, we walk as we are able.

You are a soldier, reminding me
even now like a bearded pard
of what you’ve told me repeatedly
over the years and across the ages,

   “Every day is a gift,
and we are all survivors.”

Friday, June 24

TWL, Part III: Songs

172.5    III. The Fire Sermon

172.5. ACT THREE: This is the fire section.  Eliot reserved his discussion of the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, the source for the name of this section, until the section’s end at notes 308 and 309, but he then immediately commingled his lesson with the teachings of Jesus and the reflections of St Augustine. With these pillars, the fire section will consider healing by a purging of emotions.

Some have speculated at what the poet may have wanted to personally purge, but revealing this was probably not his intent. See note 403, and see also Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent (1919):

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. ...There are many people who appreciate the expression of sincere emotion in verse, ...But very few know when there is expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet.  The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done.”

SONGS mark the continuing evolution of this poem, following the surrender and the dying words of the previous “air” section. Songs are played and alluded to outside of Part III, at lines 26 (Ariel’s song), 31 (the sailor’s song), 128 (Hamlet’s rag), 331-359 (the water-dripping song) and 379 (the fiddled whisper music), and see also note 367 (Dmitri’s drunken hymn), but we hear the greater concentration of songs within this fire section, at lines 176 and 183 (a song to the sweet River Thames); 197 (horns and motors); 199-201 (a soldiers’ ballad); 202 (children’s voices in the dome); 203-206 (the nightingale’s song); 256 (the lovely woman’s record on the gramophone); 257 (Ariel’s song revisited, with music that crept upon the waters); 261 (the pleasant whining of a mandolin); and, finally and emphatically, lines 261-306 (the song of the three Thames-daughters).  See also notes 182 (the Lord’s song in a strange land), 253 (Olivia’s song) and 258 (the graduates’ Strand song).

SONG SYLLABLES, words to carry melody over meaning, serve as regular refrains.  Most prominent in section three is the river nymphs’ chorus of weialala leia, wallala leialala (lines 277-278 and 290-291) and la la (line 306), but see also the o o o o of Hamlet’s rag (line 128), the ta ta of the pub farewellers (line 171), and the da... da....da of the thunder (lines 401, 411 and 418), and note the songs of the nightingale (jug jug, lines 103 and 204, and twit twit twit, line 204), the hermit thrush (drip drop drip drop, line 358) and the rooster (Co co   rico   co co   rico, line 393).  Compare these to the mantras of time (see note 141) and peace (see note 434).

Thursday, June 23

Moleskin 3.7: Being Alive

How nice it might have been to keep the curtains drawn, to deliver the papers without having to read them; how sweet, to never have to move beyond the banks of a gentle stream —still a powerful stream, bigger than a child’s wild imagination, yet gentle all the same; how great it would be, to stay this age forever! For all that was spinning around me —my parents’ barely mentioned divorce and downplayed poverty, the reality of suddenly having to make new friends and forge new adventures, not to mention that big world starting to show from behind the curtain —it was a perfect time, being a sixth grader, being the oldest of three, being duly employed in the big city, being able to play Huck Finn with friends, being a traveler through seventeen states, being a Cubs fan, a Scrabble player, a preacher’s kid, the son of an English teacher —in a word, being alive— and yes, just beginning to be one who liked to read the papers.

Wednesday, June 22

Passing Storm

Great storms
are not the final storms
no more than sweet calms
are the ever after;
any more my faith turns
toward eternity,
trying so hard to see
around the bend.

Earth, sun, river and wind...
I’m looking for the quintessential
Truth, something woven in
To every calm and storm.

This time
won’t be the only time,
neither the first rhyme
nor the closing chapter,
more and more I move to
the perpetuity
of things that never change
and never end.

Rock, fire, spirit and flow...
The more I move the less I know, but
Truth, where I want to go,
Is with me all the time.

as certain as the journey journeys on,
each setting sun returns to where it rose,
each river flows into a timeless sea
and endlessly the wind replenishes.

as certain as the ground I stand upon
a fire within me burns eternally
and living water pulses through my veins
and hope, the spirit in my soul, remains.

This storm
may be a passing storm,
but let the rains come
and let me feel the thunder
and let its music be
part of the symphony
of where I’m going to
and where I’ve been.

Earth, sun, river and wind...
Rock, fire, spirit and flow...
I’m looking for the quintessential
Truth: it's where I want to go.

Tuesday, June 21

End Of Spring

The end of spring’s beginning never fails
to bode a mournful middle, even as
the grass seems greener than it ever has
been, flowers are in fullest bloom and sails
are carrying the winds of summer across
the bay: it always takes me by surprise
to finish rubbing winter from my eyes
and rudely find the unexpected loss
of innocence that comes and goes too soon.

My spring has sprung and all the birds have flown
away.  My spring has sprung and all that was
awakening begins to settle down,
and even as the warmer dawns of June
exhilarate, I hesitate, because,
as morning dews of May dry with the sun,
my innocence, by the toll of noon, is gone.

Now middle age begins, yet I feel young
and ready as I ever will be to
leave spring behind and shake away the dew
that never satisfied me.  Spring, if sprung,
be damned: the summer’s beckoning me now
and I’ve got vernal promises to break
and miles to go before I let sleep take
me; that will be a cold night anyhow
when the ghosts of innocence steal me away.

My spring has sprung; all memories of birth-
days celebrated have blown out their fires.
June’s been stuck on the wall for months and months,
mocking the paper trails of time and youth.
I’m never home; it’s not home anymore;
I’ve gone away for summer, for all it’s worth,
forgetting spring, refraining innocence.

Monday, June 20


Rows, half empty, of wishers well followed me with emotional eyes
and held their breath, all as one, waiting for a verdict, wanting to know.

I took my position, for a moment missing the security of invisibility,
where once I had been sitting, then for the next brief believing

I needed, though there was none, a podium to hide behind.  But one
continues, as I suppose one must, and in this frame I cleared my throat

and started, cued by the piano of my heart and an andante pace of mind,
to sing:

She never knew how to whisper...

And hearing myself now, too, neither did I.

Without giving herself away,
or how to make people listen
when she had something to say
She never kept any mysteries
that might have made me stay
and draw close to her.
We grew apart until I barely knew her.

I want so much to whisper this, to make them strain to understand
and hear beyond pity.  Listen.  Pause...  (listen)...

She never left an impression
in a confidential tone
or tendered any emotions
that were meant for one alone.
We never had conversations
where she let me be the only
one to hear her,
but here I was, the person standing near her.

As I was today, though all these stony faces would contest.
No I do not whisper, and though your eyes mutter back
with hard cast sentiment, a numbness prevails in mine,
from all those stand-by years...

I used to love the way she wore
her passions on her sleeve
and how she spoke her mind
and bared her soul,
but lately I’ve been missing
what was never there to see
and waiting for her secrets to be told.

Look at me, and how I’ve held myself thus far, pretending my tears
and shedding my pain.  But look at her, lying there: this is about her, not me.

She never knew how to whisper...

...and I stop now, for a maybe moment, as at the beginning,
longing again for the security of cover.  I want so much
to scream elaboration, a poem to remember if not words
to understand.  But in the end, and so on, I’d just like them to listen.

I never thought I would miss her
unreserved verbosity
or how she held her position
with such acrimony.  She
was never able to whisper
but she freely showed her feelings
if you let her.
But I let her leave, and still I can’t forget her.

Sunday, June 19

Chasing Wind

The walls shake with anger.
The wind wakes the dead, stirs
the sleeping, makes it difficult to dream.
The world’s moment blows against
This house: letting be known
What is so frequently forgotten:
We stand at the whim of nature
And we breathe as the wind allows.

Saturday, June 18


if you could read my mind it would be gray
i mean to say
      the color of a stone
without distinction neither right no wrong
without apology no will no wont
be coming home tonight
       how was your day
you said i said its funny but i dont
remember much about the black or white
of it the colors turn to monotone
and the lines begin to fade
i find myself with nothing more to say
and nowhere else to go the day
                   is done
and i am going home to you tonight
instead of going off somewhere alone
to lose myself in my private shades
                        of gray

Friday, June 17

TWL, Lines 139-172 : Lil And Albert And The Pub Farewells

139   When Lil's husband got demobbed, I said —
140   I didn't mince my words, I said to her myself,
141   Hurry up please its time
142   Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart.
143   He'll want to know what you done with that money he
              gave you
144   To get herself some teeth.  He did, I was there.
145   You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,
146   He said, I swear, I can't bear to look at you.
147   And no more can't I, I said, and think of poor Albert,
148   He's been in the army for four years, he wants a good time,
149   And if you don't give it him, there's others will, I said.
150   Oh is there, she said.  Something o' that, I said.
151   Then I'll know who to thank, she said, and give me a
              straight look.
152   Hurry up please its time
153   If you don't like it you can get on with it, I said.
154   Others can pick and choose if you can't.
155   But if Albert makes off, it won't be for a lack of telling.
156   You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
157   (And her only thirty-one.)
158   I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
159   It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
160   (She's had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
161   The chemist said it would be all right, but I've never been
              the same.
162   You are a proper fool, I said.
163   Well, if Albert won't leave you alone, there it is, I said,
164   What you get married for if you don't want children?
165   Hurry up please its time
166   Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot
167   And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it
168   Hurry up please its time
169   Hurry up please its time
170   Goonight Bill.  Goonight Lou.  Goonight May.  Goonight.
171   Ta ta.  Goonight.  Goonight.
172   Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night,
              good night.

139. THE MAID’S STORY: See Eliot, F&T: This story was said to be related to the Eliots by their maid at the end of the war. To be demobbed, or demobilized, is to be discharged from military service.

141. TIME’S WINGED CHARIOT: “Hurry up please its time” reflects a common last call in English pubs.  See also the witches before their boiling cauldron in Shakespeare, Macbeth 4.1.3:

“Harpier, cries:—‘’Tis time, ‘tis time.”

The cauldron over the fire is later alluded to at lines 307 and 308.  The present “time” line repeats at lines 141, 152, 165, 168 and 169; this also follows the five counterpart repetitions of a less frantic mantra in Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

“There will be time.”

Compare the bartender’s reminders, and the concurrent advice being given to Lil, to the urgent “carpe diem” call of Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress (1681):

“Had we but world enough and time”

The mistress’s lover begins to wish they had time but quickly concludes that they don’t. See Eliot, Andrew Marvel (Times Literary Supplement, 03/31/1921), finding in Marvel’s Coy Mistress:

“an alliance of wit and seriousness (by which the seriousness is intensified).”

Coy Mistress allusions also appear at lines 185, 196 and 235. See especially note 197, for a modern variation to these lines:

“But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near.”

For some counterpace to Coy, compare the similar pub setting of line 260 and the poet’s unexpected appreciation for the music sometimes heard “beside a public bar.”

THE SEASONAL CYCLE: In response to the mistress’s master, and to the bartender, the wicked sisters of Macbeth, Lil’s advisor and Mr. Prufrock, see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

The seasonal cycle of Ecclesiastes is central to many of Eliot’s allusions.  See note 0.2 for the many references to renewal and  note 0.3 for the consideration of ephemerality.  For more specific references to the seasons, see notes 1 (Chaucer’s spring), 71 (the season of sowing and sprouting) 185 (the rattling bones of winter), 219 (the dry season of Gerontion), 253 (an unseasonal warmth) 276 (the strictures of the lenten season) and 311.5 (the seasonal wheel).

145. LILITH may be her full name. See Jesus ben Sira, Alphabeta (ca.AD 700-900; tr. M. Stein-Schneider, 1858):

“When the Almighty - may His name be praised - created the first, solitary man, He said: It is not good for man to be alone. And he fashioned for man a woman from the earth, like him, and called her Lilith. Soon, they began to quarrel with each other.  She said to him: I will not lie underneath, and he said: I will not lie underneath but above, for you are meant to lie underneath and I to lie above. She said to him: We are both equal, because we are both created from the earth. But they didn’t listen to each other. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced God’s avowed name and flew into the air. ...Immediately, the Almighty - may his name be praised - said to him: If she decides to return, it is good, but if not, then she must take it upon herself to ensure that a hundred of her children die each day.”

For a biblical reference to Lilith in the wilderness, see Isaiah 34:9-14 (Darby, 1890):

“And the torrents thereof shall be turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone; yea, the land thereof shall become burning pitch: it shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; ...And he shall stretch out upon it the line of waste, and the plummets of emptiness.  ...And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in her fortresses; and it shall be a dwelling-place of wild dogs, a court for ostriches. And there shall the beasts of the desert meet with the jackals, and the wild goat shall cry to his fellow; the lilith also shall settle there, and find for herself a place of rest.”

Many other common translations interpret “lilith” more generically; the King James Version (1611) describes the lilith as a screech owl.

152. TIME: See note 141.

161. LIL’S ABORTION: To bring it off (line 159) is to have an abortion. The chemist is a pharmacist.

165. TIME: See note 141.

167. ANTISEMITISM, one of Eliot’s more notorious flaws, rears its ugly head rears here, as the Lil story first alludes to the outspoken Lilith from Jewish folk literature then concludes with a vulgar pork meal. Gammon is smoked ham; as used here, it also suggests a slang term for sexual intercourse.

The absence in this poem of any further antisemitic recurrence is thanks in part to Ezra Pound’s editing.  A preliminary draft had contained a reference to a Jewish slur from one of Eliot’s earlier poems, Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar (1920), in which Eliot had written:

“The rats are underneath the piles.
The jew is underneath the lot.
Money in furs.”

Eliot had inserted Bleistein into The Waste Land with yet another reference to Ariel’s song (see note 26):

“Full fathom five your Bleistein lies
Under the flatfish and the squids,”

but Pound prevailed in having these lines deleted.

Pound also succeeded in having Eliot remove the whole of the poem Gerontion (1920), which included a reference to a stereotypically Jewish landlord:

“My house is a decayed house,
And the Jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.”

Eliot’s anti-semitism has relatively limited exposure within his poems, with these Bleistein and Gerontion infractions being the primary instances, but for more prominent examples see his social commentary in After Strange Gods (1934), The Idea of a Christian Society (1939) and Notes toward a Definition of Culture (1948), in which, collectively, he spoke out against a more pluralistic, secular society.  Most directly, in After Strange Gods, he commented that a society with “too many free-thinking Jews” was undesirable.  However, Eliot refused to have this essay republished beyond its limited first printing and conceded that it reflected a “disturbed” state of mind.  See Michiko Kakutani, Critic's Notebook; Examining T. S. Eliot And Anti-Semitism: How Bad Was It? (New York Times, August 22, 1989).  For a more unforgiving look, see Anthony Julius, T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form (1996).

170. GOONIGHT: A colloquial slurred version of goodbye from the regulars.

171. TA TA: A uniquely British, generally working-class  goodbye, closing out this section and beginning to introduce the next.  See note 172.5 for the recurrence of song syllables, especially in Part III.

172. OPHELIA’S FAREWELL, if not quite her final words, are alluded to here.  See Shakespeare, Hamlet 4.5.70-73:

“And so I thank you for your good counsel. Come, my coach! Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies; good night, good night.”

And thus ends the air section. Ophelia has a few more lines in the play, but already she has lost her mind and the air about her is dying. Her words, mourning her father’s death at the hands of Hamlet, become fragmentary and nonsensical as she wanders off, and soon it will be reported that she had fallen into shallow waters and drowned. See the Queen’s report in Shakespeare, Hamlet 4.7.164-181:

“There is a willow grows askant the brook
That shows his hoary leaves in the glassy stream.
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.
There on the pendent boughs her crownet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke,
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide
And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up.
...But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.”

For additional looks at the collection of flowers, see notes 74 and 214.

Ophelia’s death by water is further alluded to by lines 173-174 (“The river's tent is broken; the 
last fingers of leaf / Clutch and sink into the wet bank”). See also note 42 for a list of the other 
watery deaths in this poem.

Thursday, June 16

Moleskin 3.6: Noticing The World

In 1974 the world started creeping in. This was the year Nixon resigned, right after the Tribune published the Watergate tapes. I had apparently lived a sheltered life up to this point, rarely if ever hearing people use “expletive deleted” in their conversations, and suddenly here was the president for all the world to read, absolutely full of it. Prior to this, for all the craziness going on in our country in those days, I only seemed to notice the upbeat news: watching the first moonlanding at Hank and Vi’s Minnesota cottage, for instance, or sharing Dad’s late interest in the Beatles. Even when he went out and bought John Lennon’s Imagine, I heard none of the blue chords, only the harmonies. Even Give Me Some Truth was a cool sort of anger. But then came Tricky Dick, daring me to take a peek behind the curtain.

Wednesday, June 15

God In The Abstract

with apologies to Concise American Heritage Dictionary, 1980

I AM: considered apart
  from concrete
(AM I)    a specification
I AM: theoretical;
  not applied
(AM I)    capable of being
  put into effect.
I AM: thought of
(AM I)    stated without
  to a specific
I AM: Fine Arts. with
  design, form
(AM I)    content.

Tuesday, June 14

Every Thought Is A Prayer

Journal Entries from June 1990, continued

How about this:

Every thought is a prayer to God, and every prayer has an answer within it.  God is with us all the time, and when we remember this and believe this, his spirit responds in us and directs us.   God directs us as long as we acknowledge his presence (Proverbs 3:6), but when we forget this, where are our thoughts, our prayers?  Even then, God is still with us, waiting for us to call on him again.

Every thought is a prayer, how about that?  But every day —isn’t it a shame? —we spend so much time being thoughtless.  And still God is with us, waiting for us to come to our senses, to think, to pray.

God is more than an abstract thought, however.  The proof is not, and cannot be, my own, but it is this: our thoughts do not sustain themselves.  One private thought cannot sustain another, yet there is an answer, always, like the voice that came to Moses and said “I am.”  God is an answer.  Yahweh is the answer to our prayers.  God is not a thought; God is “I am,” the answer.

But what about the so-called great thinkers of the world, those who say they do not pray because “there is no God”?  God is still the answer, waiting for the question to be asked, the prayer to be prayed, the thought to occur (There are thoughts that have not yet occurred, even to the greatest thinkers).  Every thought is a prayer, I said.

So what about the thought that God does not exist (and who has never cried, “Where are you, God?”)?  Isn’t this simply thinking without direction, aimlessly pondering, oblivious meditation?  Thoughtlessness, really.  And still God waits with an answer.  Is there a God?  Yes, Yahweh say, I am.

Monday, June 13

Thoughts And Prayers

Journal Entries from June 1990, continued

Faith: such that I long for, a faith of such power to give me the strength to recognize my weakness, to repulse all illusions of my own credits, to relinquish my whole self —faith to say no more me, just God.  Faith, trust, that I could walk within every shadow of darkness, that I could believe that light awaits me, that darkness will be defeated.

God, you lay it all out for us.  You give us a one word direction and it ought to be easy.  But I... the self gets in the way, and yet you have given us the self, too, God; you leave us all sorts of mysteries and then you give us this mind, that wants so much to know.

Thank you God, for the promises you have given Josh today and for the strength you have given to Don; for the smile you have given to Parul today and for the grace you have given her family.  Thank you God for everyone close to me —Annie, Mom, Dan —and thank you too for everyday people, most of whose names I do not know, but thank you God for their patience —your patience —and acceptance of a man with measly faith.  I am afraid to be weak, God, and I am afraid of relinquishing myself, even to my maker, but thank you God for your ears and your hand and your presence.   Thank you for your strength and your smile and your grace, your light and your direction.

P.S., just one thing more:  God bless my studies and my tests this week.  I need you.


The thought occurred to me that things will never be the same.

This wasn’t a pessimistic thought, either.  Josh has realistic hope of a lasting remission.  Don went to work today; he’s feeling much stronger and it makes me consider that with the extent of last week’s pain for him followed by this week’s recovery, the chemo might really be doing what we want it to do.

So I thought: what if Don’s tumor disappeared and Josh’s remission were complete?  Things wouldn’t be the same; they would be better for the ways we would —and will! —be stronger: in spirits, in confidence, in faith.  There is, of course, a “best case” scenario, to believe that Josh and Don will live forever.  And why not?  By faith, God promises that they will!

For now, however, I must continue to pray.

Sunday, June 12

Prayers As They Occur

Journal Entries from June 1990

God, when the job at hand is more than I can handle,
God, when the pressure weighs heavy upon me,
God, when things are out of my hands,
when I am helpless, lost and looking for answers,
God, when I’ve buried my head in the sand,
sulked in my sorrows and wondered aloud
in a roomful of sufferers, selfishly cried “Why me?”
God, when I don’t know the answers,
God, when I think I need to know
as a matter of survival, life and death,
God, the power and the glory
and the answer, God, is yours.


Parul is not happy with her mother today.  They don’t want her going to India —because of money, because of safety, some other time maybe —and she’s disappointed.  She threw some shoes at her mother and walked out of the house, eleven miles to 520 Stewart.  She got rained on several times along the way.

She’s never been anywhere, she says, and now, forget it, she doesn’t want to go to India.  “One day we’ll go together,” I said, and she said, “No, I don’t want to go.”

 I brought her to her uncle’s house.  She’s not sure what will happen next.  She’s even having second thoughts about medical school.

“This too...” I said, but she wasn’t ready to believe me.

Tomorrow, God, I pray for Parul.


“I talk to God a lot.  In the shower, in the car.  Some people might call it prayer, but I like to think of it as a kind of thought process, a figuring out.”

“Does he hear you?”

“God?  Sure.  God hears us whether we’re talking to him or not.”

“Hey, Joe, come on, what makes you think God would take the time to listen to you?

“I don’t know, Jim.  I don’t know why.  I just know he does.”

“How do you know?”

“He answers.”

Saturday, June 11

TWL, Lines 112-138: Talk Of Wind And Nothingness

112   “Speak to me.  Why do you never speak.  Speak.
113     “What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
114 “I never know what you are thinking.  Think.”

115 I think we are in rats' alley
116 Where the dead men lost their bones.

 117 “What is that noise?”
118  The wind under the door.
119 “What is that noise now?  What is the wind doing?”
120 Nothing again nothing.
121 “Do
122 “You know nothing?  Do you see nothing?  Do you
123 “Nothing?”

124   I remember
125 Those are pearls that were his eyes.
126 “Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?”
127             But

128  O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
129 It's so elegant
130 So intelligent
131   “What shall I do now?  What shall I do?
132   “I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
133   “With my hair down, so.  What shall we do tomorrow?
134   “What shall we ever do?”
135   The hot water at ten.
136   And if it rains, a closed car at four.
137   And we shall play a game of chess,
138   Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon
                 the door.

112. SPEAK: See Shakespeare, Hamlet 1.1.127-138 (Hamlet addressing the ghost of his father): “Speak to me.”

113. QUESTIONS keep coming up, don’t they?  One is left unmarked, at line 112 (Why do you never speak), but questions are regularly punctuated at lines 20, 34, 72ff, 113ff, 131ff, 164, 299, 360ff, 402 and 426. Questions are also alluded to by the epigraph and by lines 26, 30, 48, 118,182, 186, 309, and 400.

116. RAT’S ALLEY was a World War I slang term for battlefield trenches.  See also the recurrence of bones “rattled by the rat’s foot” at lines 194-195, and see note 186.

118. THE WIND: Eliot: “Cf. Webster: ‘Is the wind in that door still?’”

See John Webster, The Devil’s Lawcase 3.2.164 (1623), and see all of scene 2 for the context.  Two surgeons come upon a man being stabbed, ostensibly to death; the surgeons consider how they might make money off of the perpetrator by promising to keep quiet, when the victim groans.  They first pretend it is only the wind they hear, but they know better and quickly realize that by healing the victim they can profit from both sides.

123. NOTHINGNESS: See Shakespeare, Hamlet 3.4.128-131:

“HAMLET: Do you see nothing there?
QUEEN: Nothing at all, yet all that is I see.
HAMLET: Nor did you nothing hear?
QUEEN: No, nothing but ourselves.”

Nothingness, emptiness and brokenness pervade this poem. See lines 22, 40, 119-126, 173, 177, 303-305, 385, 389, 409, 410, 417 and 427. Compare these lines with the humble thoughts of Kurtz’s “last disciple” in Conrad, Heart of Darkness 3:

“I am a simple man. I have no great thoughts. I want nothing from anybody.”

125. PEARLY EYES: Eliot: “Cf. Part I, l. 37, 48.” This is Eliot’s quiet hint tying the hyacinth prince of line 37 (“...your arms full and your hair wet”) to the drowned sailor of line 48 (“Those are pearls that were his eyes,” alluding to Shakespeare, The Tempest 1.2.399).

126. ALIVE, OR NOT: Wondering about being “alive, or not” follows lines 39-40: “I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing...” which alludes to Dante, Inferno 34:25:

“I did not die, and I alive remained not.”

128. HAMLET’S LAST WORDS: See Shakespeare, Hamlet 5.2.342-349 (Folio ed., 1623):

“O, I die, Horatio.
The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit,
I cannot live to hear the news from England,
But I do prophesy th'election lights
On Fortinbras: he has my dying voice.
So tell him with th’occurrents more and less
Which have solicited – The rest is silence.
O, o, o, o.”

In the earlier Quarto editions, Hamlet’s words end with “silence” (compare line 434, ending this poem with “Shantih shantih shantih”).  See also line 172 for an allusion to Ophelia’s farewell words ("Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night"), from Shakespeare, Hamlet 4.5.70-73.

130. RAGTIME: See Gene Buck & Herman Ruby, The Zeigfield Follies, That Shakespearean Rag (1912):

“That Shakespearian rag-- Most intelligent, very elegant,...”

Ragtime literature, a term coined by Clive Bell, criticized Eliot and others for “flout[ing] traditional rhythms and sequences and grammar and logic” and following the less than serious trend of jazz performers.  See Bell, Since Cezanne: Plus De Jazz (1922).  Eliot was talented, Bell premised, but

“...[his] agonizing labours seem to have been eased somewhat by the comfortable ministrations of a black and grinning muse.”

If anything, though, Eliot's "comfortable" passages are dissonant and uneasy. Socialites talk of their day plans (lines 131-138) in a snippet conspicuously placed between the emptiness of a domestic difference (lines 111-126) and the gossipy ramble of a soldier’s return to the homefront (lines 139-171).  These bits are interspersed with brief notes of mortality, a “ministration” based on Hamlet’s fading breaths (line 128) and a string of pub farewells that echo Ophelia’s morbid goodbyes (line 172).  There will be more songs in the poem’s next section, and they will become less oblique, but this is, for now, as musical as it gets.

SHAKESPEARE VS. DANTE: In the midst of this Shakespearean “rag,” we are reminded of Dante’s continuing role as escort throughout this poem.  Eliot would later pose a comparison of the counterparts in Eliot, Dante: II. The Purgatorio and the Paradiso (1929):

“...Gradually we come to admit that Shakespeare understands a greater extent and variety of human life than Dante; but that Dante understands deeper degrees of degradation and higher degrees of exaltation.  And a further wisdom is reached when we see clearly that this indicates the equality of the two men.”

(For a similar, if tangential, take, see Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses, 1934: “...When the question, often put, ‘If on a desert island what one book?’ was again raised, Joyce said: ‘I should hesitate between Dante and Shakespeare but not for long. The Englishman is richer...’”  But see Joyce's recapitulation in Richard Ellman, James Joyce (1959): “‘I love Dante almost as much as the Bible. He is my spiritual food, the rest is ballast.’”)

For the record, these annotations have more references to Shakespeare (45 different passages; see note 0.1) than the Bible (34 passages; see note 0.5) or Dante (22; see note 0.1) or any other source.  The next most frequently turned to sources are Virgil (9; see note 0.1), Whitman (9; see note 2), Augustine (7; see note 307), Ovid (7; see note 0.3) and Conrad (7; see note 0.3).

131. WHAT SHALL I DO: More questions, and more Hamlet allusions.  See Shakespeare, Hamlet 1.4.57, for Hamlet’s reaction after his father’s ghost appears:

“Say, why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?”

See also Hamlet 3.4.178, when the Queen fails to see or hear her late husband’s ghost and asks, even after her son challenges her:

“What shall I do?”

Compare the indecisiveness of Hamlet and his mother in the face of a familiar ghost to those whom death has undone at the gates of hell for having “lived withouten infamy or praise.” See note 63 and Dante, Inferno 3:35-57.

137. DIVERSIONARY GAMES: Eliot: “Cf. the game of chess in Middleton's Women Beware Women.”

See Thomas Middleton, A Game at Chess (1624); and see also Middleton, Women Beware Women (1657), in which a girl is seduced while her mother in law is kept busy in the next room playing chess.  See also note 76.5 for other games of chess.

138.  LIDLESS EYES: See Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Inclusiveness (1881):

“The changing guests, each in a different mood,
Sit at the roadside table and arise:
And every life among them in likewise
Is a soul’s board set daily with new food.
What man has bent o’er his son’s sleep, to brood
How that face shall watch his when cold it lies?—
Or thought, as his own mother kissed his eyes,
Of what her kiss was when his father wooed?
May not this ancient room thou sit’st in dwell
In separate living souls for joy or pain?
Nay, all its corners may be painted plain
Where Heaven shows pictures of some life spent well;
And may be stamped, a memory all in vain,
Upon the sight of lidless eyes in Hell.”

In an earlier manuscript, in a section edited after Vivienne’s objection, Eliot had referred to the statuary chess pieces in an extra line between “a game of chess” and “pressing lidless eyes”: “The ivory men make company between us.”

Compare the “vials of ivory and coloured glass” at line 86, and also compare the pearly eyes of the hyacinth prince and the drowned sailors (note 125).  See also Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx (1894), speaking of the statue that “strains his lidless eyes Across the empty land.”

For an alternative and perhaps more disparate image, see W.B. Yeats, Upon A House Shaken By The Land Agitation (1916), referring to the eagle’s ability to stare at the sun without blinking, with “the lidless eye that loves the sun.”  By way of reconciling this with the chess pieces, compare the image of  line 22: “a heap of broken images, where the sun beats,” and see also the white skeletons of soldiers at note 186.

Friday, June 10

TWL, Line 111: The Nervous Speaker

111 “My nerves are bad to-night.  Yes, bad.  Stay with me...”

111. CAST OF CHARACTERS: This is the fifth directly quoted passage of The Waste Land, after THE SYBIL’s wish to die (line 0.3), THE HYACINTH GIRL remembering how she was named (lines 35-36), THE POET calling out to his reader STETSON (lines 69-76) and the inviolable cry of THE NIGHTINGALE (line 103, and see lines 203-206).  Only three more direct quotes will follow: single lines from THE LOVELY WOMAN (line 252) and the Tempest’s ARIEL (line 257), then the songs of THE THREE THAMES DAUGHTERS (lines 292-305).

With a total of fourteen lines (lines 111-14, 117, 119, 121-123, 126, 131-134), THE NERVOUS SPEAKER has the most extended of the quoted passages, and it is interspersed, sans quotation marks, by the responsive dialogue of THE SPEAKER’S COMPANION.  The two speakers hear one another, so the lack of quotations of the companion appears to be simply a means to distinguish them.  This also happens, though without interactive dialogue, after the Hyacinth Girl speaks (lines 37-41), and the two passages are even related: “I knew nothing,” says the Hyacinth Girl’s respondent (line 40); “Do you know nothing?” the nervous speaker retorts (lines 121-122); the Hyacinth Girl’s respondent observes “your hair wet” (line 37) while the nervous speaker mentions going outside with her hair down (line 133), after which her companion considers that it might rain (line 136).

Separately, several other characters appear without quotation marks, often in pairs: before this, MARIE and a GERMAN COFFEE DRINKER (lines 5-18), a PROPHET speaking to THE SON OF MAN (lines 19-30), a VIGILANT SAILOR (lines 31-34, 42), MADAME SOSOSTRIS (lines 46-59); after this, LIL and a BARTENDER (lines 139-172) and the blind TIRESIUS (lines 215-248), endured by the Lovely Woman.

Beyond these, there are no clearly distinguishable speeches in the poem, though myriad other voices, or “fragments,” as the Poet suggests (line 431), can be heard within the flow of musings and allusions.  One could cast these fragments as separate characters, but really they are more reflections of either the Poet, e.g., THE FISHER KING (lines 182-202 and 424-426), or the city around him, e.g, BABY-FACED BATS (lines 380-385).  There are also at least six prominent characters in the poem who do not speak: the spoken-to STETSON (lines 69-76), the Cleopatra-like QUEEN (lines 77-110), MR. EUGENIDES (lines 207-214), PHLEBAS THE PHOENICIAN (lines 312-321), THE WALKING COMPANION (lines 360-366) and a BLACK-HAIRED WOMAN (lines 378-385).

So who is the nervous speaker?  There are ambiguities tying all the characters together throughout the poem (see note 39), and here it is no different: by the context of dialog, the nervous speaker would seem to be the Hyacinth Girl or the walking companion; by appearance she might be the lovely woman or the black-haired woman; by her melancholy she could be the Sybil or the nightingale or one of the Thames daughters; by her spouse-like behavior she could be Lil or the queen or, with an external reference, Eliot’s wife Vivienne. Perhaps most conclusively, within the continual stream of fragments she, or he, would seem to be an extension of the Poet himself.

DIFFERENT VOICES: See F&T*: Before it was The Waste Land, this poem’s working title was “He Do The Police In Different Voices.” See James Joyce, Ulysses, Circe 555 (1922), and compare the echo of this passage at lines 308-311:




Dublin's burning! Dublin's burning! On fire, on fire!”

Thursday, June 9

Moleskin 3.5: Scrabble Days

Meanwhile we always had our dad’s living arrangements to remind us to be thankful. In the course of two years, before finally leaving the Chicago chapter of his life story, Dad lived in a series of three gritty, minimalist spaces, mirroring a temporal nightshift existence. The series showed gradual improvement, from the third floor inner city SRO with wire mesh in the windows and boilerplates across the ceilings to, eventually, the suburban arrangement with a roommate who was singularly record-obsessed, with wall to ceiling milk rates full of vinyl. My brother Dan and I (Josh at four and five stayed with Mom more) spent weekends at each of these places, but it was the middle one, the Dolphin Motel, I remember most. It was a small room with water stains and signs of rodents and a bar/lounge off the lobby, but it had a pool! And it was here at the Dolphin that my dad taught me to enjoy the simple pace of a Saturday game of Scrabble —with an eleven year old allowance to use the dictionary as much as I needed.

Wednesday, June 8

Hawk Block

A Palinode to an Earlier Draft

Effectively I killed my poem
like a hawk that kills the weak, the sick, the old;
Defined it by the second line
as a predator that seizes stumbling souls;
Declared its features unsubdued
like shrieks across a universal sky;
Discovered Death in stanza two
as a bird reflecting dinner in its eye,
Foreshadowing the obvious,
the destiny of creatures great and small
And celebrating the irony
of grace within three pounds of caterwaul.
Repeatedly analogies
went flying through the predatory air
Pronouncing the mortality
of all who are alive, awake, aware.
The sad thing is, I love this bird:
I watch it catch the kettles high above
On muscled wings, remote controlled,
in the spirit of the words I’m dreaming of
But never grasp: I watch it soar
untethered to the world till all I see
Is the distance of its silhouette
becoming an enigma over me:
A mystery, yet clearly made
of more than Death compressed onto a page
Of whiteness, more than irony
observed within an origami cage,
And more than all my heavy paint
can capture.  Now, beyond all odes, this bird
That let me love it from afar
lives on but flies away without a word.

Tuesday, June 7


For my daughter

If I were the falconer
I might never let go;
I’d hold on to the tether

and you’d learn how to fly
in small circles around me:
I’d want you to know

the spirit of freedom,
so I’d give you the sky
in gradual increments,

ever so slowly
releasing you outward
and upward, and I

would remain in the center

within and below you,
the turn of your wild
and the ground to your sky,

the tame of your will
and the stage for your show,
but the one who allows you

the power to fly
is the one who eventually
has to let go.

I am not the falconer;
I don’t rule your sky,
nor would I deny you

the winds of your freedom,
but I will stand fast
in the fields you came from

calling your name out
and watching you fly.

Monday, June 6

More From The Archives: Another Introduction


That's a fancy French word for untangling, and in literature it applies to the point of the story where everything turns towards the final resolutions.

In most stories, we might expect this to happen on the final pages or in the final chapter, but in a good story you might start to see this even from the beginning.  I like the way John Ylvisaker puts it in his song, Borning Cry, which begins:

I was there to hear your borning cry.
I'll be there when you grow old.
I was there the day you were baptized
To see your life unfold.

Unfolding: Untangling: Denouement

I thought of this about four years ago when my daughter crossed the stage for her eighth grade graduation. And I'll be thinking of it all over again this June as she graduates from high school, and I have had, and will have, the same thoughts at my son's graduations.

As parents, we'd like to think that we have so much to do with the plots of our children's lives, but we really don't, and when it comes down to it, we are just fortunate - blessed - to be in the audience, cheering them on.

Sunday, June 5


The rock behind the rock we're on
was hidden from our point of view
until it caught the setting sun
and nothing but a sliver to
paint shadows on our faces and
give us a dusky hint of who
we are at night:  we're all the same,
imperfect sinners turning to
the stars, a cross, a crescent moon
and taking time for penance: you
have Lent and we have Ramadan
and each of us is hoping to
make it to heaven somehow and
get through life on this rock we're on.

I don't pretend to understand
the purpose of the fasting or
the reason we should watch the moon.
I guess it meant something before
they called it Lent or Ramadan,
before we rested faith upon
the Prophet's revelations or
the resurrection of the Son,
but this is what we're looking for:
salvation past the ceremonies,
focus in our daily worship,
sustenance beyond the sunset,
anything to make us more
at peace and not at odds upon
this hot, dry dessert rock we're on.