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Agnes Wathall (1907-2004)

Unfortunately, we know very little about Agnes Louise Wathall Tatera beyond the fact that she published a small book of poems, A Trick of Light, under her maiden name, Agnes Wathall. The book was published by Braun-Brumfield in 1984. From the book's Acknowledgements page, we have culled the names of a number of journals and sundry publications that published her work: among them The Lyric, Orphic Lute, Orbis, Modern Haiku, Bonsai, Quickenings, Prophetic Voices, Hobby Horse and The Chicago Tribune. From her obituary in The Chicago Tribune, we know that she died on February 05, 2004, that she was the wife of John Tatera, the mother of Andrea Le Beau, the grandmother of David F. Burke, and the daughter of Elsa Wathall. Thanks to public records we know that she was born on July 26, 1907 to Alfred and Elsa Wathall, that she apparently lived all or most of her life in Chicago, that she attended the University of Illinois, and that she married John N. Tatera in 1942. Her father was Alfred G. Wathall; in addition to being a composer of some note, he was also the organist and choir-master of the Church of Our Savior in Chicago. Around 1902, George Ade and Alfred G. Wathall created a musical comedy or light opera called The Sultan of Sulu, which had a successful run in Chicago, Boston and New York. Several of the songs later appeared on a record titled Gems from the Sultan of Sulu, produced by Victor Records and featuring the Victor Orchestra and the Victor Light Opera Company. So the musical properties of Agnes Wathall's poetry should probably come as no surprise ...

Sea Fevers

No ancient mariner I,
   Hawker of public crosses,
Snaring the passersby
   With my necklace of albatrosses.

I blink no glittering eye
   Between tufts of gray sea mosses
Nor in the high road ply
   My trade of guilts and glosses.

But a dark and inward sky
   Tracks the flotsam of my losses.
No more becalmed to lie,
   The skeleton ship tosses.


Frost tonight.
Resting on the parsley bed
a thistle seed.

The Lorelei Reformed

Don't set your will to cross the stream, my love,
     when I stand opposite and waiting.
The thinning, thicking mists swirl from my eyes.
     My lips are traitor to my words, and baiting.

 Our hands seem close enough to touch, my love,
      but waves ride treacherous in the narrows
 and if you trick a path from rock to rock
      you'll find them mossy stepping-stones to sorrows.

 So kiss me only with your eyes, my love--
      then turn your back on love's confusion.
 I take no dark delight in drownings, love:
      my song is powerless, and my spell illusion.

Things Past

If love has cast a shadow where we stood,
There lies on Kensington's sun-sifted grass
Under the leaf-tent of an ancient wood
A subtle shade that Sunday strollers pass.
Along the dark Victorian promenade
Of terraced Thames, between the beams of light,
The silent lips of shadow-clung-to-shade
Embrace with words unspoken in the night.
Wraith of a hand trails in the twirling pools
Left by your oars dipped in the Serpentine.
We who were the sad and festive fools
Are moony phantoms keening, "This was mine."
When braver loves these haunted spots have blessed,
Our lingering ghosts may then be laid to rest.


The door chimed and there you stood
young, persistent as the gray rain
beading your gray coat.

Your words slipped by quick and unobtrusive
as a salesman's foot
but the cheery rote
in which you offered me your tracts
did not match the flatness of your eyes.

I asked you in for coffee,
feeling a warmth of sisterhood
for your seeming passionate seeking
of my salvation,
until I perceived, slowly,
you were just making sure of your own.

I know little of conversion
but would expect as moving prime
a fiery love,
and would judge it best
to invoke Grace with grace.

The Magic Glass

Only one, the child I bore
and that one long since not a child
yet my memory
once and for all time bewitched
counts a large family.

As one who stands between
two mirrors, opposite,
sees there an infinite balance of twins,
in rhythmic file, stretching out of sight,
bowing and posturing together,
I see my one, my many children

but in my inner glass
the figures are not uniform.
They are the infant, toddler, tot,
the kindergartner terrified at school,
the chubby young collector
of rosaries and lipsticks,
the vain teen-ager
washing out salon-set hair before the prom,
the bride triumphant--

They do not stay in place
but each one separately
moves in her own way
in both herself
and me.

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