Poems That Salvage
What We Can of the Past

Water Tender, a new collection of poetry by Mary Agnes Dalrymple, is divided into two parts, the first of which is a sequence of narrated memories covering the poet’s lifetime. Beginning with the dangerous, complicated, bloody process of birth and ending with the bloody complicated process of making sausage. This sounds like a facetious connection, and perhaps it is; bit it’s significant that a day of making sausage involves packing a lifetime of memories of family members into a tube. And it’s not all nostalgic; during the process the poet receives news of her niece’s divorce; life goes on. This recalls another poem in which, during a routine process of getting ready for Christmas, the poet learns that her mother has died in an auto accident. That poem is followed by another describing the near loss of her father, who weeps for the loss of his wife, whom he had instructed the doctor to save if a choice had to be made during the birth of the poet—back to poem one. This is a well-knit book, rich in detail, and strengthened by continuity.

Mary Agnes Dalrymple is not afraid of the dark. Poems in this book deal with the specter of breast cancer, her husband’s stroke, and his open-heart surgery. “What I’m Saying Is I Need You” is an honest, practical, and unsentimental yet heartfelt expression of vulnerability and love. The death of her mother is a recurring painful theme. She also remembers a suicidal teenage boy, the shooting of a steer in the field, the slaughter of kittens, and other dark images. In one poem she has to acknowledge: “This is not a dream; I can not open / my eyes to something that is not this.”

But Water Tender also has its poems of pleasure and delight. “Today,” the poet says, “let us listen to water fall in the greenhouse,… Let us focus on what is still working.” Let us not overlook the dance of the Monarch butterfly in the garden. Pay attention, she tells us, to the Texas countryside, turtles wherever you find them, the persistence of pecans.

The second part of Water Tender is a small collection of poetic captions for or narratives inspired by found art, such as postcards, old photos, a Picasso painting, the famous shot of Marilyn with her dress blown upwards, and a number of intriguing and disturbing news stories. These poems are entertaining, but they, like the poems in the first part of the book, run a range of tones from light to very dark—the strongest ones dealing with pain and suffering.

Mary Agnes Dalrymple lives and writes in Huffman, Texas. Her poems have appeared in many distinguished literary journals, including The Baltimore Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The Comstock Review, Limestone, Green Hills Literary Lantern, The Louisville Review, The Texas Observer, and The Roanoke Review. From 1995-2001 she was the editor of Blue Violin, a journal of free-verse poetry.

Water Tender
by Mary Agnes Dalrymple
ISBN 1-56474-413-2
80 pages, paperback, $10.00

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