by Jonathan Vold

Monday, October 31

Burrowing Owl at Montrose Harbor

You weren’t supposed to be here but the wind
blew hard a thousand miles east of all
your expectations.  And the prairie turned
to corn, turned into stubble and the fall
turned to the ways of winter and the ground
came to a giant water edged in steel.

By chance you found a respite set within
an urban field of designated wild,
protected by a roll of a snowdrift fence
with a sign to read and reconcile
   (for those who can or those who will)
a tranquil sanctuary for the mind,
a magic fifteen acres for the soul
and for the bird.  Until the word went out
in typed staccato, texted with a shout.

It wasn’t supposed to go this way, but you
were not the ordinary beachfront owl
and we were crazy for a better view;
we’d never seen an eastern juvenile
cunicularia migrating through
Chicago; and we meant to wish you well.

Forgive us, then, for rudely rushing to
your resting place, for overlooking rules
and crossing lines, for passions crashing through
the wilderness and wandering off the trail,
   (for those who will, and don’t we all?)
for being curious crowds, for flushing you
out of your final makeshift prairie hole,
and pardon most of all our great surprise
to find you at the dawn of your demise.

A Cooper’s hawk, as Cooper’s hawks will do,
descended from its perch above the din
and sank its brutal talons into you
before our eyes, turned yang to darkest yin
spectacularly as your feathers flew
into the autumn air and caught the wind
to fly no more.

          And what were we to do?
Your wings had shown the wear of having been
a vagrant far from home, and you were too
exhausted to keep going past the dawn,
   (and no one can keep going on)
too young to know exactly what to do
and too vulnerable with your prairie gone.
And here you found us with our feverish smiles,
so pleased to meet you at your final mile.

Sunday, October 30

Far And Away

I look into your eyes
and in them find your heart
full of the sorrow
of far and away.

Far, the color of your eyes
and the story of a journey
stretching out to the horizon
with a word approaching fear
but incomplete:
far, the distance of uncertain,
like measuring a mountain
with the space and separation
between near and disappeared;
far, the feeling
between effort and defeat.

And then away,
another story of
a day after the journey
is over with an order
of divorce:
away, the echo of forever
in the opposite direction,
with the posture and position
of a disconnecting turn;
away, the feeling
of rejection and remorse.

And I can see
the distance and direction,
the echo and order
of fear and always
in your eyes,
telling me their stories,
filling my own heart
with the sorrow
of far and away.

Saturday, October 29

Upon A Time

To my own Vivienne, wherever you are:
  ... not to be found in my obituary
 Or in memories draped
 by the beneficent spider
 Or under seals broken
 by the lean solicitor
 In my empty room

Upon a time, once there was
Who took the time —and what is time
But a thin line with hash marks
Conveying us then to now
And from now on, or
dashing predictions
a one time rotation,
Unrepeating, unending.

If history is a cycle of mistakes
time is one long forever,
now and then familiar
but the future never known;
if yesterday was headlines
and today is talking heads
tomorrow is today’s cheap talk,
Just when you thought it wasn’t
Just what you least expected.

Friday, October 28

TWL, Lines 401-410: Thunder To Humanity

401 Da
402 Datta: what have we given?
403 My friend, blood shaking my heart
404 The awful daring of a moment's surrender
405 Which an age of prudence can never retract
406 By this, and this only, we have existed
407 Which is not to be found in our obituaries
408 Or in memories draped by the beneficent spider
409 Or under seals broken by the lean solicitor
410 In our empty rooms

402. THUNDER’S FIRST DISCIPLINE: Eliot: “'Datta, dayadhvam, damyata' (Give, sympathize, control). The fable of the meaning of the Thunder is found in the Brihadaranyaka– Upanishad, 5, 1. A translation is found in Deussen's Sechzig Upanishads des Veda, p. 489.”  See Paul Deussen’s German translation (1897), and see note 400 for an English translation.

The first discipline of datta, or “Give,” is what humans can hear in the syllable “Da.” Compare Eliot, Portrait of a Lady (1920):

“But what have I, but what have I, my friend,
To give you, what can you receive from me?”

403. PERSONAL POETRY: This line once read, “My friend. My friend, beating in my heart” (see Eliot, F&T). Eliot struggled to keep his poetry impersonal (see note 172.5), and even called the more personal Walt Whitman “pathetic” (see Eliot, American Literature, Athenaeum, 4/25/1919), yet he could not resist occasional turns to friendship and, in this poem and elsewhere, allusions to Whitman.  See Eliot, Portrait of a Lady:

“Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
‘Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
What life is, you should hold it in your hands’;
(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
‘You let it flow from you, you let it flow...’”

and compare this to the opening lines of Whitman, Memories:

“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.”

408. THE BENEFICENT SPIDER: Eliot: “Cf. Webster, The White Devil, V, vi: ‘...they'll remarry / Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider / Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs.’” This is Flamineo from John Webster’s White Devil (note 44) 5.6.182-190, leading up to his own dying words:

“O men,
That lie upon your death-beds, and are haunted
With howling wives! ne'er trust them; they'll re-marry
Ere the worm pierce your winding-sheet, ere the spider
Make a thin curtain for your epitaphs.

...Trust a woman? never, never; Brachiano
be my precedent. We lay our souls to pawn to the devil
for a little pleasure, and a woman makes the bill of sale.
That ever man should marry! ...”

410. A MOMENT’S SURRENDER: Lines 403-410 answer line 402: That which we have given, that which the thunder would have us give, is ever more than what will be stated in what we leave behind: not in our public obituaries or preserved epitaphs or private wills, beyond the bills of sale, but it is only by this “awful daring” (line 404) of ephemoral surrender that we have existed (line 406).

Thursday, October 27

Moleskin 5.6: New Flow River

In the fall of ‘75, the fall of twelve, we moved again, this time to home number ten. It was in the same suburb and same school district as the stepdad home, but this home was a step up: a real house with two stories over the basement, in a neighborhood with curving streets and stone street signs. All the houses were older and less cookie-cuttered: ours had stucco siding with sloped corners and leaded windows.  We were miles away from the Des Plaines River now, but we could hear O’Hare a little closer and sense the Kennedy Expressway to the south of us —different kinds of river flows. It seemed to be a “settle in” sort of place, with an easy walk to school, a new set of friends to meet and, once again, a paper route.

Wednesday, October 26

Someday (Even Now)

  will be unafraid
     of what we’ve dared to say, to hear
  the Proposal beginning to form
     of a song singing our fears into prayer.

  will know the meaning of every kiss
     and the truth in every holding moment,
  the Path already turning
     from if to when.

Someday, this day,
  will see your caring as committing
     and my trying as succeeding,
  the Premise becoming the Promise
     of who we are.

Someday, already, my love,
  will live for today
     and into tomorrow,
  the Projection of our resolve,
     the future unfolding, and

Someday, Cara, even now,
  will share a better poem
     with perfect words to say,
  the Plans coming together
     in synchronicity.

Someday, my love, is now,
  and with this ring of Poetry
     you are, if you will be, 
        my every day.

Tuesday, October 25

The Dance

I never knew how lucky a man could be
‘Til I met you and asked if you’d dance with me
And you agreed and said with a smile
You’d had your eye on me for a while.
You’ll never see a man as happy as me.

And then when you began to dance with me
I never knew how lovely the dance could be:
The way you moved, and move me still,
The way it feels you always will,
The way you hold me close and set me free.

I could keep dancing all night long with you.
I want to fall into the song with you.

And I never knew how perfect a song it was
Until the music started to carry us
Across the floor.  They may never see
Two lovers more than you and me
In tune, two dancers happier than us.

I want to make you as happy as you make me,
As happy, as lucky and loved and moved and free.

Monday, October 24

The Path

So far, Cara love, this path we’re on
Has proven to be everything and more
Than anything two travelers alone
Could ever dream.  We’re seeing what before
Was far away: the moon, the stars, the sun,
Once distant beacons from another shore,
Wrap heaven’s light around us:  Every dawn
Is new and each night finds us wanting more.

And as we walk as one, the sky begins
Expanding and the shadows disappear.
We start to hope our journey never ends,
And then, believing God has led us here,
We put our hands together and we pray
For perfect fires that never burn away.

Sunday, October 23

Telling The Story

There wouldn’t be a story
if there wasn’t used to be

Like wrinkles in a poem
stumbling on its own audacity

or textures on a canvas
proving authenticity

or waves upon the sea
resounding their testimony

or the truth of a dream
holding on to mystery.

Saturday, October 22

Voices In My Head

from my journals, 1990

Another hotel dream:  This time, I went into the hotel while Carrie stayed out in the car.

For some reason, it was in my head this evening that the way to get a hotel room was to find an empty one, claim it and then check in with the front desk.  So I walked resolutely down the main hall that cut through the hotel front to back, not even considering any of the rooms being passed as possible vacancies until I got to the hotel’s far side, to a perimeter hallway, really a motel now —where I saw one door that seemed to mystically tell me that it would open to an empty room.  I opened it and walked in.

There had been a person walking behind me down the hall —walking nonchalantly, just another patron I thought —until he walked into the same room behind me.  He didn’t say anything, but he looked like he was forming the start of a protest on his lips.  “Hey!  What are you...?” or something like that.  But I didn’t give him time for this and didn’t even turn to him and instead walked through the room to where there was another door into an adjacent room.

I opened that door and found a couple on the bed, making self-absorbed love.  I closed the door, turned around and walked out of the outer room, lowering my eyes from the man who was, I now realized, this room’s proper occupant.  I had made a mistake. And it all came back to me —remembering conventionality and realizing where I had strayed.  I walked quickly back to the front desk to start all over.
Carrie was there in the lobby.  There was no point in describing where I had been, but she had a wondering look on her face.  I went up to her, hugged her affectionately and decided that the best thing to do would be to propose.  So I stepped back a formal distance from her.  I wanted to do everything just right; I wasn’t on my knees, but I still assumed the air of a man beseechingly proposing to an honorable woman several levels above him.   Someone brought out a textbook —a hymnal —that had proper procedures on how to propose.  It started out straightforwardly: Not ”Carrie, will you marry me,” but something as direct but with a few more flowery words —“How grateful would I live if you should be my wedded wife,” or something like that.  And then there were a dozen other things to say, all very ceremoniously intended and laid out on the page.  Each statement came in threes: I had to make a decision on which option to read out of each trio.  The first one was often something in Latin; the second and third differed in their degree of religious or secular tone.  The effect of all this was that my perfect proposal lost much of its glamor, and I largely stumbled along.
But I got through it.  And she said yes.

And immediately we were in separate hotel rooms.  I was in mine with six or seven friends / relatives, and Carrie was in hers.  My room had two beds, and I laid down on the bed nearest to the wall.  I reached over for the bedside phone and started dialing a number, but someone grabbed the phone, said that’s not right.  I don’t know who it was, but he was correct: I had dialed my home number, and though I hadn’t said anything, he knew who I was trying to reach.  “You’re both in the hotel, so you don’t have to dial so many numbers,” he explained.  This, he said, is how he had known I hadn’t dialed right.  And he took the phone and dialed for me and we reached Carrie’s room.

Her brother George answered.  Somehow, briefly, I could see the whole room, and I was there, and it was the moment Carrie and I were breaking the news: We’re getting married!  No reaction.  There was Mr. C and Mrs. C and several others all leaning over something at the kitchen counter, going about their business.

But then I was on the phone again, apart from Carrie, and speaking to George.  He was concerned —not unhappy, but concerned.  “I don’t think you guys should rush it so much.  I mean, the seventeenth of this month?”  It was a date obviously arrived at in that room only; it was the first I had heard about it.

George was also concerned about our financial standing and our schooling.  I assured him that we would be okay.  I talked at length, strolling around with a portable phone.  I was doing most, if not all, of the talking now. I talked and walked, and suddenly I found myself walking outside and down a nearby street.  Eventually the reception faded.  “George? George?”  I didn’t have the phone’s antenna all the way out (—this was the early days of mobile phones—) but even after extending it I could only hear static....

I woke up and fell asleep several times after this, and I tried to finish the dream.  It seems that I did get several episodes added, but they were all hazy, and are  now completely forgotten, but each had the same positive tone on the same theme —we are getting married, and Carrie’s family wants it all to go smoothly, and somehow I have the feeling that it will.

Friday, October 21

TWL, Lines 396-400: Then Spoke The Thunder

396 Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
397 Waited for rain, while the black clouds
398 Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
399 The jungle crouched, humped in silence.
400 Then spoke the thunder

396. GANGA is India’s River Ganges, said to sustain a tenth of the world’s population. In Indian legend, Ganga, a river goddess, flowed in the mountains of Paradise until King Bhagiratha prayed a thousand years to bring her down to earth. See Valmiki, Ramayana 1 (Bala Kanda, Book of Youth): 42-43 (ca. 400 BC).

398. HIMAVANT is a holy mountain in the Himalayas, literally the snowy mountain. Himavant is also the mountain personified, the Hindu God of Snow, father of the river goddess Ganga. See Valmiki, Ramayana (note 396) 1.42.23.

400. THEN SPOKE THE THUNDER: See Upanishads, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.2.2: The Voice of Thunder (tr. Robert Ernest Hume, 1921):

“The threefold offspring of Prajapati—gods (devas), men (manushyas), and devils (asuras) —dwelt with their father Prajapati as students of sacred knowledge (brahmacarya).

Having lived the life of a student of sacred knowledge, the gods said: ‘Speak to us, Sir.’ To them then he spoke this syllable, ‘Da.’ ‘Did you understand?’ ‘We did understand,’ said they. ‘You said to us, “Restrain yourselves (damyata).”’ ‘Yes (Om)!’ said he. ‘You did understand.’

So then the men said to him: ‘Speak to us, Sir.’ To them then he spoke this syllable, ‘Da.’ ‘Did you understand?’ ‘We did understand,’ said they. ‘You said to us, “Give (datta).”’ ‘Yes (Om)!’ said he. ‘You did understand.’

So then the devils said to him: ‘Speak to us, Sir.’ To them then he spoke this syllable, ‘Da.’ ‘Did you understand?’ ‘We did understand,’ said they. ‘You said to us, “Be compassionate (dayadhvam).”’ ‘Yes (Om)!’ said he. ‘You did understand.’
This same thing does the divine voice here, thunder, repeat: Da! Da! Da! that is, restrain yourselves, give, be compassionate. One should practise this same triad: self-restraint, giving, compassion.” 
The divine voice of “Da da da” is considered further at notes 402, 412, 418, 419 and 434. 
The voice of thunder is also considered more broadly, beyond the Upanishads, at note 321.5.

THE UPANISHADS are a key part of the Hindu books of knowledge (the Vedas) that teach about ultimate reality (Brahman) and spiritual self awareness (Atman). Upanishad means “sitting at the feet” and Brihadaranyaka, the name of this upanishad, means “great wilderness.”  Thus, one could paraphrase the source of this scriptural passage as coming from the Waste Land lessons of Sitting on the Bank (see note 192).

Thursday, October 20

Moleskin 5.5: Sweet Maple River

I have to recognize what rivers I’ve been given, though. Chicago, I barely knew your green river, but I liked that nameless creek full of crayfish and that make-do hockey pond down the street, and as I got older I enjoyed discovering the sweet maple river of Des Plaines, groomed with urban forest preserves just a bike ride away. When we were young Dad would drive us to a nature preserve just off of Milwaukee Avenue, with caged raccoons and animal prints cast in clay and miles of trails with markers describing the different trees. Eventually I would find my own way to the Des Plaines riverbanks, and even now, and I am still here, too —that river gives me peace. I did not —do not —need to contemplate its continuum to be a part of it, and I am a part of it and one with every river I have ever known.

Wednesday, October 19

What Brings Us Here

from Walled Gardens

“Lose thyself...”

We do not come to the doors of God
nor stir the dust of the chapel road
assured that we should feel proud
of what the journey was

It wasn’t strength of will that brought
us here, or that our debts were paid
ahead of time and left behind:
this is no place for cause

And we may think ourselves well dressed
and breakfasted with our own houses
put in order, as if by this
we’re ready to be blessed,

But this is not a place where we are sought;
we are the seekers, here for what we’re not.

Tuesday, October 18

The Grand Design

from Walled Gardens

This is how you are to bless....
-  Numbers 6:23 (NIV)

The grand design of the universe proceeds
regardless of apologies and creeds,
no matter what’s believed or not believed:
that God exists precedes how God’s perceived
and all the universe thus far perfected
is God’s reality on us reflected.
What good, then, if we separate the light
into a thousand rays of wrong and right
when there is truth in each ray we receive?
I may not always know what to believe,
but I believe that God’s expecting me
to keep reflecting everything I see
without distortion, judgment or rejection
and faithful to the source of my reflection.

God bless thee, wolf or Joseph, small or great,
and keep thee all the same by wrath or mercy
unbiased by thy aid or opposition,
no matter what thy rank or reputation;
God shine His face upon thee for thy favor
and turn His face toward thee for thy peace
regardless of thy service or rebellion,
uncolored by thy honor or thy shame.
By grace thy soul is given understanding
just as by God the sky is given lightning
and as the force that first did cause the heavens
is still creating every force within:
so bless thee, as the miller turns the millstone,
and keep thee, as the tender feeds the flame.

The grand design of the universe is carved
and I am but a sliver in the carving:
all I know is shaped by the designer
and all I am, a part of the design.
I am an ant with perpetual movement
around me, earth and heaven ever moving
like a mindless dragon: I am but a mote
within its mouth, and yet for all the motion
I am never swallowed as the dragon
sleeps and stirs. And even this great dragon
is given its own task upon the millwheel,
unmindful of the fires and misfortunes
of time, and I’m an atom on this millwheel,
holding to my place in the design.

Monday, October 17

Creed and Confession

from Walled Gardens

I have been bound to imagery and form,
without regard to their source and eternity;

I have taken scripture at its word,
and found God’s essence in chapter and verse; and yet

I have bowed down to devils wearing the rings of kings.
“He sat upon the throne” was all I needed.

I have praised the images in my church,
never thinking of God as the artist;

I have followed the form of the worship service
never considering the contingencies.

I have come to believe that God will send
the devils on their way, but

I have never dared to move beyond
“He sat” to “He has no place.”

I have been bound to the image of a throne
and the form of one who wears a fitting crown;

I have let the scriptures tell me what is true,
as even “he that sat upon the throne revealed...”

I have proudly worn my Christianity
and celebrated God’s descendancy;

I have put this at the center of my creed,
believing that my God will come again, even as

I have known my God’s been with me all along,
every time, forever everywhere, even as

I have looked and still I look for a direction
to bow down to, traditions to cling to, even as

I have needed, always needed, something new,
something certain, something true.

Sunday, October 16

Zenaida, born of Zeus

Killdeers call with perpetual fear,
Nothing but fear, fear, fear, look here, look here!

Owls stand guard with the moods of moonlight,
Calling who, who, who casts their shadows at night?

Each bird sings with a different style,
And somehow the mourning dove lost its smile.

Nobody knows their trouble and strain:
Woe is woe, woe, woe.
Pain is pain, pain, pain.

Nuthatches ha-ha-ha nervous as clowns
Dancing on branches and making their rounds;

Gulls have a child-like exuberant noise,
A playground of high-pitched girls and boys;

A distant hawk telegraphs its fairest warning,
And then there’s the dove, quietly mourning.

I cannot explain the mourning dove’s pain.
Can’t explain pain, pain.  
Can’t explain pain, pain. 

Crows are all arrogance, breaking the law,
Disturbing the peace with their caw, caw, caw;
Jays cop an attitude, ringing their name
From the tops of trees, all jay and no shame;

Cardinals share their clear cheer cheer
But the doves keep it personal, muted, austere

With hints of a story that nobody knows:
No one feels their pain.  
No one knows their woes.

Sparrows are whistling Dixie, with calls
Of teakettles, peabodies, bounced rubber balls;
Thrushes are pipers that play heaven for us,
Ethereally luring us into the forest;

Most birds are easy to characterize,
But who is to say why the mourning dove cries?
I cannot explain the mourning dove’s pain.
Can’t explain pain, pain.
Can’t explain pain, pain.

Saturday, October 15


“...and with all your strength...”

My heart is heavy: if heaviness were
  a bundle I would set it down and leave
it on the roadside bloody there to throb
    and die alone.  Then newly spirited I
by the substitute beat of wings would learn to fly
      and rise to heaven all heaviness defied,
  by invisible will of winds sustained
    and carried, no more burdens to abide.
But let my heart beat on inseparable, strong
  against the grievous push of reality,
     steady as the ground on which I stand,
  constantly attending, the sergeant’s song
at the center of my march to victory
  and the core of my pain.
My soul is sad: and if it were a rope
  around my neck I would struggle to untie
the knots of my existence, to escape
  the tangles of my personhood, to be
unfettered from my sorrows, free at last:
  viva la dolce vita joie de vivre
     translated to the gates of God
  and welcomed in, all weariness relieved.
But let my soul run certainty within
  the intricate schematic of my veins,
     cause of all effect, the unseen force
  of every muscle’s movement, every wind
and spark and charge, the rattle in my chains
  and the source of my sadness.

My mind is numb: if heaven is a dream
  unproven, laughable, a fool’s goal I
     must dream it and believe it anyway:
  upon these wings imagined life becomes
more bearable, the suffering recedes;
  but prove there is no heaven, clip my dreams
     and pain abounds and weighs me down;
  my heart becomes a heavy ticking bomb;
my soul starts strangling me.
                         But let it be:
  let my heart beat on, my soul remain within
     to stubbornly endure; let time instruct
  the vital weave of heaviness and heaven
and let me learn how pain is not a parcel
  to reject or a cord to be cut.

Friday, October 14

TWL, lines 386-395: The Chapel Of The Wind

386 In this decayed hole among the mountains
387 In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
388 Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
389 There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
390 It has no windows, and the door swings,
391 Dry bones can harm no one.
392 Only a cock stood on the rooftree
393 Co co rico    co co rico
394 In a flash of lightning.  Then a damp gust
395 Bringing rain

388. THE CHAPEL PERILOUS , a term first used in Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) 6.14-15, is where a weeping Hellawes the Sorceress sends Sir Lancelot to retrieve a magical sword and cloth that will heal her brother.  Her ulterior motive is to seduce Lancelot, but when he refuses to kiss her upon his return then rides off to heal the wounded soldier, she despairs and kills herself.  Compare the story of Queen Dido and Aeneas (note 92).

The chapel itself, meanwhile, is a legend unto itself.  See Weston, From Ritual to Romance 13:

“Students of the Grail romances will remember that in many of the versions the hero--sometimes it is a heroine--meets with a strange and terrifying adventure in a mysterious Chapel, an adventure which, we are given to understand, is fraught with extreme peril to life. The details vary: sometimes there is a Dead Body laid on the altar; sometimes a Black Hand extinguishes the tapers; there are strange and threatening voices, and the general impression is that this is an adventure in which supernatural, and evil, forces are engaged. Such an adventure befalls Gawain on his way to the Grail Castle. He is overtaken by a terrible storm, and coming to a Chapel, standing at a crossways in the middle of a forest, enters for  shelter. The altar is bare, with no cloth, or covering, nothing is thereon but a great golden candlestick with a tall taper burning within it. Behind the altar is a window, and as Gawain looks a Hand, black and hideous, comes through the window, and extinguishes the taper, while a voice makes lamentation loud and dire, beneath which the very building rocks. Gawain's horse shies for terror, and the knight, making the sign of the Cross, rides out of the Chapel, to find the storm abated, and the great wind fallen. Thereafter the night was calm and clear.” 

389. THE WIND’S HOME: See the “wind under the door” at line 118.  The chapel in this passage is empty and windowless; likewise the bones, not yet brought to life (see line 186), are dry and harmless. The chapel remains the wind’s home, however, and the scene quickly changes: the door swings, a damp gust brings rain (see lines 394-395) and what was once a dry, sterile thunder (see line 342) will become full of meaning (see line 399 and following). 

PUTTING OFF SENSE AND NOTION: Compare the allegorical English chapel of Eliot, Little Gidding (1943):
“...If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying...”
For a list of other church references in The Waste Land, see note 67.

393. THE COCK CROWS: Co co rico is the rooster’s cry in French, the language of Leman (see line 182) and, demotically, of Mr Eugenides (see line 212). 
The cock also crows in Shakespeare, The Tempest 1.2.385-387, as part of Ariel’s song (note 26): 

“Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock a diddle dow”

See also Shakespeare, Hamlet 1.1.156, as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, just about to speak, suddenly departs at dawn: 
It was about to speak when the cock crew.

And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
Awake the god of day, and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
Th' extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine, and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.
It faded on the crowing of the cock.”
See also Matthew 26: 31-35, 69-75: 

“Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. ...Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.”

395. BRINGING RAIN: See Conrad*, An Outcast of the Islands 4.5:

“Then the heavy air round him was pierced by a sharp gust of wind, bringing with it the fresh, damp feel of the falling rain...”

Thursday, October 13

Moleskin 5.4: Backyard River

And then my family moved, and I moved. Homes seven, eight and nine were those transitional places between the drainage ditch and the Des Plaines River into which it dumped: the townhome, the apartment, the stepdad’s parent’s home: places I wanted to romanticize as being in the big city and not so far away from the old Chicago River and the great Lake Michigan, but homes I tend to remember and realize in more cynical shades. Our prior dwellings had never been big or glamorous, and we had lived in an urban apartment and even a trailer home before, but I missed the Buffalo River parsonage and everything about it: the neighbors, the space around us, the sense of “us” living in one place, one family with a river in our back yard, just down the hill.

Wednesday, October 12

Dreams From September

September 26, 1990

Quick dream (I should give this more time): Dan and I are in my car, Dan is driving.  We are stopped and backed up by several cars at the corner of Prospect and Touhy; we are south of the intersection.  I take the opportunity to jump out of the car to quickly run an errand in one of the Prospect shops.  I have some film to turn in and some old record albums I want to sell.  There is a one-stop shop that can take care of both of my needs.

I turn in the film quickly, but they have to assess the record albums one at a time, and there are about fifteen of them.  I wonder if it will take too long, but I decide Dan will have the sense to pull the car over to the side if the light turns green.

The shopkeeper looks at the albums.  They are worth 5¢ ...15¢ ...10¢ ...etc., depending on the newness, popularity, size —all the obvious factors.  The total comes to $1.75.  It’s too small an amount, really, but I am ready to concede, wanting to collect the money and get out of the shop quickly.  But then the shopkeeper convinces me that I ought to hold off on selling them until they increase in value.  As a consolation he gives me a punch card which, when filled, will allow me to redeem a given number of records at a higher price.

I leave the shop ...and outside I find my car sitting sideways, perpendicular to Prospect Avenue with its nose in the middle of the right hand lane and its rear almost right up against the parked cars on the side of the street.  Traffic is slowed down even more now, as cars have to drive around mine now.  Dan is asleep in the passenger seat.  I go over to the driver’s side —and it is crushed, beyond just a scrape, bashed in all along the side.  I am able to open the door and I determine the car will be driveable, but Dan still doesn’t wake up.
I shout, in a panic.  Dan wakes up groggily and continues to be only half awake for the rest of the dream...  The cops come... We look the car over... I calm down a little... and Dan goes back to sleep.

September, 2013

He stood outside a Shell station in the warm part of fall, wearing scuffed black leather, studded and chained, heavy calf-high boots, fat dark glasses and a nervousness that made me look away.  I didn’t notice his hair, except that it must have completed the grey-black head-to-toe theme he had going, not goth or Johnny Cash but relic all the same. And I didn’t see if he was smoking a cigarette, either, but he had all the gestures: one hand always going to his mouth, a jitteriness about him and a general haziness.  I wasn’t close enough to smell him, but there was no point.  He seemed to be waiting for someone or something, adding to the nervousness, but he stayed close to the side of the building as though what he wanted was right there.  Maybe he just wanted to be noticed.  I imagined him getting up in the morning, putting the whole costume on one piece at a time in front of a mirror, trying to look cool, but that wouldn’t explain why he was here, standing on the alley side of a gas station.  Everything about him was out of alignment: he wore biker gear but there wasn’t a bike around; he might have been waiting for a bus, bu this wasn’t on a bus route.  He looked like there should have been a pay phone next to him and he was waiting for it to ring, except that they took out all the pay phones years ago.  He might have been waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom, or waiting for his turn, except that this particular Shell station didn’t have a side-entrance john. There was an air pump with a few loops of hose next to him, but this was probably just a coincidence, signifying nothing.

All of this I gathered in a glance, before the nervousness turned me away.

Inside, the attendant was a chubby faced hispanic named Alexa, according to her name tag.  She was on the afternoon shift, the same shift for enough years to know all the regulars or at least what they wanted.  I never bought gas here, too expensive, but this was a regular stop of mine for a pop on the way home, to get me through the rush hour.  One 20 oz. Diet Coke with one Grandma’s oatmeal cookie pack.  Neither the caffeine or the sugar are good for me but I will not begrudge the routine and I’m sure I spend much less here than most.  Alexa spends more time dispensing cigarettes and lottery tickets than she does my $2.61.  But she knows me, knows my purchase, and we exchange one verison or another of how do you do.  One day I’ll stop for a moment, if there’s no line behind me, and ask her what she thinks of the weather, but even if this ever happens it will probably not go further.  She has customers to attend, I have a forty five minute drive ahead of me and we live in different worlds.

Tuesday, October 11

In Progress

As argument tries to take over,
What is being taken?
Everything, it seems,
Yet nothing more than this:
You cannot take what you do not want.
I cannot have what is never mine.
My hope remains.
Your faith is your own to find.

As argument tries to win the day,
What is there to lose?
Nothing, it seems,
Yet everything comes down to this:
Your victory and my defeat,
Or my win to your loss,
Is the death of the conversation
And the end of us.

As argument tries to make its point,
Who gets the final word?
What is there left to say?

Monday, October 10

Beyond Speech and Silence

from Walled Gardens

How can one describe God?
What wins the argument?

Speech is limited to comparison,
Silence is sworn to dereliction,
Reason travels far to reach amazement,
Zeal arrives at self-enrichment,
Imagination cannot find the truth, and
Understanding turns to vanity.
The prophets are confused by God,
the saints are stupefied.

God is the mind’s desire
and master of the soul,
the devotee’s commitment,
the disciple’s goal,
but all of this is beyond where reason goes,
exists above existence, acts
without regard to the usual bounds:
There is no “in” or “out”, “how” or “why”.

Sunday, October 9


Silence is an empty peace;
Violence is a pointless war.

No one ever dies for silence,
No one ever wins with violence,
But there is peace worth fighting for
As there are wars that fires may cease.

Fires that blaze leave deathly silence,
None to claim the spoils of violence
And the pointlessness increases
When the battlefield releases
No one to pick up the pieces,
No one to put up the score,
No one fighting anymore.

No one wins an empty war.

Saturday, October 8


To put face to feathery form, the nation...

An eagle, on the wing and rising to
the sky, a field prevailing azure, blue
revealed by golden glory breaking through
the argent ring of clouds aligned anew
above the bird: a halo made of stars
now taking place and rank among the powers,
the power of peace before the power of wars,
all sovereignties reordered after ours,
a nation reckoned by a blazing sun:
and thus our fate is sealed, all battles won.

The eagle tips the balance towards peace:
its dexter talon rightly won’t release
the olive branch; and peaceward does it face
forever to its honorable embrace,
and yet the raptor holds its arrows fast
within its eastward talon to avast
what sinister designs may come to pass;
it clings this bundle, ready to the last
to stave all threats before they are begun
and thus our fate is sealed, all battles won.

Behold the eagle’s shield, the chief and pale
held front and center by their own avail,
the two most honored ordinaries hailed
to mark the great escutcheon unassailed,
a symbol for the way the eagle rules:
the azure chief a congress for the whole
above a pale of stripes, argent and gules
kept closely unified: so speaks the scroll
of our perpetual creed: “Of many, one,”
and thus our fate is sealed, all battles won.

Within the eagle’s beak this Latin pun
becomes our purpose and criterion,
our everlasting oath beneath the sun:
E pluribus, of many, unum, one,
and thus our fate is sealed, all battles won. 

Friday, October 7

TWL, lines 367-385: Falling Towers

TWL, lines 367-385:  Falling Towers

367 What is that sound high in the air
368 Murmur of maternal lamentation
369 Who are those hooded hordes swarming
370 Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
371 Ringed by the flat horizon only
372 What is the city over the mountains
373 Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
374 Falling towers
375 Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
376 Vienna London
377 Unreal
378 A woman drew her long black hair out tight
379 And fiddled whisper music on those strings
380 And bats with baby faces in the violet light
381 Whistled, and beat their wings
382 And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
383 And upside down in air were towers
384 Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
385 And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted

367. A DRUNKEN HYMN: Eliot: “Cf. Hermann Hesse, Blick ins Chaos: Schon ist halb Europa, schon ist zumindest der halbe Osten Europas auf dem Wege zum Chaos, fährt betrunken im heiligen Wahn am Abgrund entlang und singt dazu, singt betrunken und hymnisch wie Dmitri Karamasoff sang. Ueber diese Lieder lacht der Bürger beleidigt, der Heilige und Seher hört sie mit Tränen.”
See Hesse, A Glimpse of Chaos (note 298), with reference to Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (note 248):

“Already half Europe, at all events half Eastern Europe, is on the road to Chaos. In a state of drunken illusion she is reeling into the abyss and, as she reels, she sings a drunken hymn such as Dmitri Karamazov sang. The insulted citizen laughs that song to scorn, the saint and seer hear it with tears.”
Compare St. Augustine’s point of conversion, leaving behind influences of drunkenness and lust, at note 307.

Meanwhile, the incognizance of lines 366 and 367 continues at lines 369 and 372. Compare lines 54-56, where Madame Sosostris could not find the Hanged Man (which Eliot associated with the hooded figure of Christ (see note 46 and line 364)) and saw only “crowds (now hooded hordes) of people, walking round in a ring.” 

374. FALLING TOWERS: The unreal city (see note 60), previously seen at dawn and at noon (see lines 61 and 208), is now in Tiresias’s violet hour (see lines 215 and 220 and note 380); it is also a city at war with bombs bursting, planes whistling and towers falling. 
Towers will appear throughout section five, and while the only towers mentioned previously were white with pealing bells (line 289), they are now falling (line 374), upside down in air (line 383), horrible (note 412) and destroyed (line 430). Compare the tale of the Tower of Babel reaching vainly to God, at Genesis 11:4-9: 
“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men [built].... And the LORD said, Behold, the people ...have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth...” 

376. FALLING CITIES: London is now placed in context with Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria and Vienna, all centers of empires and cultural hubs for their time, but here they are cracking, falling apart and reforming into something unreal.  Babylon (note 209) and Carthage (note 307) may be added to this list.  See also Joyce’s Dublin at note 111.

378. THE LONG-HAIRED WOMAN, fiddling whisper music on her hair, can be compared to the hyacinth girl, found with “arms full, and wet” (line 38); the woman on talking walls whose “hair / Spread out in fiery points / Glowed into words” (line 108); the woman who walked the street with “hair down” (line 133); and the woman who “smoothes her hair with automatic hand, / And puts a record on the gramophone” (line 255). See also hair’s tie to fertility in both Frazer, The Golden Bough 3:5.6, and Weston, From Ritual to Romance 4. 

380. THE VIOLET HOUR, previously introduced at lines 215 and 220 as the evening hour at the end of the workday (see note 221), also alludes to the liturgical color of repentance and baptism; see Brooks (note 330).  See also note 68 and Luke* 23:44 for the noon darkness that fell over the earth on Good Friday.  Elsewhere, violet or purple, appearing here as light, describes air (line 373), sails (note 77) and trenches (note 331).  See also Shakespeare, Hamlet 4.5.177 (Ophelia’s violets withered when her father died) and 5.1.229 (Laertes wishing violets would spring from Ophelia’s grave).  See also the “violet and purple morn” in Whitman, Memories  12.  Violet also relates to Phoenicia, the “land of purple”; see note 312. 

BATS WITH BABY FACES: See Pierre Leyris, Poémes, 1910-1930, 155 (1947), relating this passage to Hieronymus Bosch paintings, perhaps alluding to the baby faced bat in Bosch, Hell (1504).

Hieronymus Bosch, 
Hell (detail) (1504)


382. CRAWLING DOWN A WALL: See Bram Stoker, Dracula 3 (1897): “I saw the whole man... begin to crawl down the castle wall over the dreadful abyss, face down, with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings.”

384. TOLLING BELLS: See note 291 for the peal of bells in general, and see line 67, “where St. Mary Woolnoth kept the hours.” See also Whitman, Memories 6: 

“With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang.”

385. VOICES ...OUT OF EMPTY CISTERNS recalls the “children’s voices in the dome” at line 202.  See also Jeremiah 2:13,14: 
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. ...The young lions roared upon him, and yelled, and they made his land waste...” 

Thursday, October 6

Moleskin 5.3: Lingering River

  Let me linger for a moment now, back at my sixth home and its place on the Buffalo River: a muddy river, full of the soil of the fields around it; a rising river in the spring, finding its way into our basement from time to time; a meandering river that shapes its own valleys in the shadow of the Red River of the North; a river of gravel road bridges and big mud turtles. My mother had her small job of reading and reporting the river heights at the bridge station just down the hill from our home; my father worked at the church up the hill on the other side of the river, a quarter mile down and up that hill. I swam in the Buffalo River, as muddy as it was, and I explored the woods behind our house that bordered the river and give it riparian solace. I met neighbors and friends my own age all along the river: across from us, the Akers; a mile east and south, the Horpedahls. Spiritually I am still sitting, will always be, along that river, with water that seems to barely move.