Sunday, January 18, 2015

Amid the Alien Whole Kernel Corn

Lawrence Hall


Amid the Alien Whole-Kernel Corn


Given that most of humanity has always lived on the edge of starvation, the ordinary (to us) grocery store is an adventure in consumerism and culture: coffee from Colombia, tea from Sri Lanka (which was Ceylon before it watched too much television), bananas from Nicaragua, olive oil from Italy, herring from Norway, and summer vegetables shipped from California at all seasons. Sugar-sodden snacks pose seductively only an aisle away from the ascetic whole-grain breads, and diet sodas vamp desperately for the shopper’s attention like aging pop stars layered in makeup.


Shopping the supermarket is like shopping the world, and presumably the rest of the world enjoys effective means of transporting groceries back to the house, flat, yurt, tent, or trailer.  In the USA, it might be time for us to bring our own bags to the grocery store.


Not so long ago grocery sacks were made of heavy brown paper.  When the sackboy, showing off a bit, swung it in a great arc against the air the sack opened with a very satisfying “pop,” ready for action.  The good old paper grocery sack was sturdy and capacious, and once the groceries were stored away at home the sacks went on to second careers as costume masks, school projects,  and useful (though not fashionable) beach and overnight bags, and for carrying one’s own garden produce to friends.  The cloud of polysyllabic adjectives condemning the use of paper grocery sacks as a crime against red-headed toadfrogs or something is just a darned lie. 


Later the customer was given a choice, paper or plastic, and the plastic, too, was good stuff.  Primitive plastic grocery sacks were manly ones, quite capable of telling that “Hefty, Hefty, Hefty” upstart where to get off.


Alas that now shoppers in the land of Manifest Destiny have no choice.  Grocery bags are plastic only, and nouveau plastic of such a flimsy, vaporous quality that they are no more substantial than a political party’s platform.  Groceries that could be toted in two or three substantial paper bags are now wrapped into six or seven little puffs of weak, thin film.  These diaphanous fancies are carefully designed to fall apart, like an environmentalist’s excuses, between your car and your back door.


A modern plastic grocery bag is not strong enough to hold even a pound of coffee, but that works out okay because there are no one-pound cans of coffee anymore.  Coffee is now sold 12 ounces at a time in cardboard cylinders.  One supposes that an honest pound of coffee was detrimental to the rain forest, which used be a fine old jungle before it began taking night classes at community college and got all sensitive.


Shopping carts have changed little; they’re still made of steel, rattle like crazy, and feature errant wheels that are determined to steer the cart to India even though you are trying to tack against them to the frozen foods.  I have been in grocery stores where the shopping carts were made of plastic atop obedient wheels, but that somehow seemed a little too Martha’s Vineyard or something.  Real Americans demand noisy, oppositional, steel shopping carts with a little fight in them.


Your old Granny thumped the melons, smelled the steaks, palpated the bread, and eyed the ground Charles carefully because she knew what she was doing.  Now most food products, even bananas and apples, are decorated with health and safety labels, but I’d rather trust Granny’s diagnosis than some propaganda about how an apple was grown by barefoot beatniks invoking karma-ness and the spirit of Alan Watts.


But, hey, it’s all organic, natural, farm-fresh, and good for the environment, right?  After all, the label says so, and who can argue with a label?


Coffee in cardboard and fooofy grocery sacks that exhibit the tensile strength of water vapor, well, we can cope, but how sadly progressive that sackboys no longer wear aprons, white shirts, and bow ties.  They looked sharp in a Little House on the Prairie-goes-to-town-on-Saturday sort of way.  I kinda miss that.






Community College for Everyone

Lawrence Hall


Community College for Everyone


“Tolle Lege - Take up and read”

-a child’s voice in Saint Augustine’s Confessions


You do not need permits or paperwork

A license, vouchers, sufferance, consent,

Authorization, sanction, approval,

Passport, certification, charter, chit,

Security clearance, brevet, code, key,

Party card, registration, ration book,

Rubber stamp, fingerprints, user name, badge,

Photo identification, pin number

To read a poem on a summer afternoon

You do not need permits or paperwork

Sergeant Schultz Saw Everything

Lawrence Hall


Sergeant Schultz Saw Everything


This sad world needs another Sergeant Schultz

That merry miles ponderosus who

Carried his rifle like a walking stick

And celebrated strudel instead of glory 

His innocent joy repudiated

The burning-soul pornography of war

In seeing nothing he saw everything

Through ordinary men living in hope

The liturgy of daily happiness

This sad world needs another Sergeant Schultz

The Danelaw

Lawrence Hall


The Danelaw


The ancient usages of Holy Church

Are hidden in dark marshes with the King 

The Eucharist is fallen into the ash

And all the sacred vessels - they are lost

The holy Chalice is but a cup for mead

The Paten a love-offering for a dancing girl

The vestments coverings for snoring Danes

The burnt Mass-book a mystery of smoke:

But Christus semper vivat, and quickens still

The ancient usages of Holy Church

A Clockwork Clock and The Cisco Kid

Lawrence Hall


A Clockwork Clock


One almost never sees a clockwork clock

Two trimmed and stamped and punched flat metal disks

With gears and wheels and springs and hands attached

And all enclosed in steel and faced with glass

On duty in the kitchen window there

To watch Mom’s baking bread or note the hours

Until The Cisco Kid lassoed a dream

To delight little boys with a golden tale

Adventures when the hands met years ago

But now

One almost never sees a clockwork clock

What's Wrong With Education These Days?

Lawrence Hall


What’s Wrong with Education These Days?


The principal in his cartoon tee-shirt

His Nike sneakers squeaking across the floor

Sets out candy, pizzas, and canned sodas

Arranges a door prize, and assembles the faculty

Requires them to sign in so he can check on them

Orders them to hold hands and sing the school song

Reminds them they are all one big family

As a preface to his primary agenda:

To tell them to be more professional

The principal in his cartoon tee-shirt

After Epiphany III (and I'm not calling the three poems a tryptich)

Lawrence Hall


After Epiphany III


The stripping of the tree is almost Lenten

The ornaments gone, only “bare ruined choirs”

Remain, no comfort of carols or hymns

As it is dragged outside into the cold

It almost seems to shiver in the winter sun

Reduced to poverty and then to scraps

Which in the months to come enkindle then

An evening fire after the cows are milked

But not celebrated with festive lights

The stripping of the tree is almost Lenten

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Cigar is Forbidden

The Cigar is Forbidden


The cigar is forbidden. Dare not to smoke

To puff, to huff, to breathe, to sigh, to toke

These rules apply to every lad and bloke

Your attitude’s been noticed – dare not to smoke.

After Epiphany I & II

Lawrence Hall


After Epiphany I


Epiphany is the door into winter

Into those bleak, grey days, into the cold

When time itself is huddled in the dark

Asleep, suspended in the drifting mist

In clouds of icy mist among the trees

Above the somnolent, shivering earth

The brief, pale sun in silence disappears

The moon in silence rises high to watch 

Over a world asleep until far spring

Epiphany is the door into winter


After Epiphany II


There will not be a gay bonfire tonight

The outside animals were early fed

And early sheltered in their straw-strewn barn

To chew and low and snuffle through the hours

Then folks withdrew from duties and the dark

Into the house to hang their coats and find

A chair next to the stove; they sigh the time

And mourn the emptiness where was the tree

And linger drowsily over a Christmas book

There will be not be a gay bonfire tonight

We All Came from the Stars

Lawrence Hall



We All Came from the Stars


We all came from the stars. It’s just that some

Among us never forgot. They cause problems.

Narcissists Without Borders

Lawrence Hall


Narcissists Without Borders


I am Charlie Hebdo I am I am

Charlie hebdo I am Charlie hebdo

I am Charlie hebdo I am I am

Buy my album buy my music buy my

Television show buy my movie I

Am Charlie Hebdo I am I am I

Look at me, take my picture, look at me

There I am on the big flat screen it’s me

Read my sign, ain’t I cute, where’s my credit

I am Charlie Hebdo I am I am.

Student Loans

Lawrence Hall


Student Loans


“Tolle Lege - Take up and read”

-a child’s voice in Saint Augustine’s Confessions


You do not need permits or paperwork

A license, vouchers, sufferance, consent,

Authorization, sanction, approval,

Passport, certification, charter, chit,

Security clearance, brevet, code, key,

Party card, registration, ration book,

Rubber stamp, fingerprints, user name, badge,

Photo identification, pin number

To read a poem on a summer afternoon

You do not need permits or paperwork.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What's Your Oeuvre?

Lawrence Hall


What’s Your Oeuvre?


How then does one acquire an oeuvre

Pronounce an oeuvre and spell an oeuvre

Tossing one’s cookies – is oeuvre the sound

Of gagging old beer onto the ground

Are oeuvres ordered from Amazon

Or styled tres chic at a hair salon

Or force another rhyme with “Babylon?”

How very sad to have no oeuvre

Such a disgrace – we’ll have to movre

Unless somehow we acquire an oeuvre.

The Portuguese Main in Old Movies

Lawrence Hall

The Portuguese Main in Old Movies

Why don’t the Portuguese have their own main?
Errol Flynn fights only Spanish baddies
Who twirl their moustaches in sneering disdain
But the villains are never Portuguese laddies
When ships do battle on Warner’s sound stage
The English are haughty, the Spanish snooty
Prince Henry’s brave men are never the rage
And the heroine is never a Lisboan beauty
Harken unto this repeated refrain:
Why don’t the Portuguese have their own main?

Iconic Bucket List, Actually

Lawrence Hall


Iconic Bucket List, Actually


Some amusing folks at Lake Superior State University have published their 40th annual list of overused and euphemistic words and phrases, including “polar vortex,” “skill set,” “swag,” “foodie,” and “enhanced interrogation” (


The anonymous writers refer to the tiresome words and phrases as “banned” and “banished,” but one hopes those strong verbs are mere hyperbole.


This is all jaw-droppint iconic fun, actually, and actually all of us tire of overused iconic words and phrases, actually.  I mean, like, actually, you know, actually keep calm and talk to the jaw-dropping iconic hand because actually at the jaw-dropping end of the iconic day when the iconic fat lady actually sings ya gotta give 1001% to iconic, inclusive, and sensitive jaw-dropping iconic fate because actually iconic Mother Nature’s wrath is a jaw-dropping shoo-in for the bucket list.  Jaw-dropping, actually. And iconic.


And, hey, television news: why do you say “Next, but first?”  Almost every evening the on-air reporter says something to the effect of “Next we’ll have Greg with the weather, but first…”  In the event, what is truly next is a series of advertisements, followed by what used to be called a human interest story, and then, finally, the weather report.  Thus, Greg is not only not next, he is far from next, and so has time to go out for a coffee before he must be in place before the cameras.


Actually (so to speak), Lake Superior State University is not free of verbal clutter itself.  Note the filler language on their admissions page:


At LSSU, we're redefining the classroom and preparing students for a world where the only constant is change. Students at LSSU go beyond the traditional classroom experience with real-world, hands-on, engaged learning experiences. (


“The only constant is change,” “real-world,” “hands-on”, and “engaged learning experience” are the sort of puffery that appeared, like fungal growth, in high school mission statements (remember mission statements?) before the turn of the century.  These examples of verbal clutter should be featured on LSSU’s list of banned words.


On the admissions page appears a promotion for LSSU’s honors program:


The Honors Program at LSSU is for highly motivated students that wish to develop their abilities and skills in exciting and innovative ways that go beyond the classroom. The central goal of the Honors faculty is to actively engage the Honors students in the process of their undergraduate education.


Given that this blurb features four capitalization errors, a pronoun error, numerous redundant modifiers, and a split infinitive, the admissions people might want to ask the word people to proofread their puffery.


They could put it on their iconic bucket list, actually.




Thursday, January 1, 2015

Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas I, II, and III

Lawrence Hall

Seventh Day in the Octave
of Christmas I

“Lest our old robes sit easier than our new”

-Macbeth II.iii.37

Does the year fail, or is it we who fail?
This Octave day in darkness cold begins
And on the radio the same dark news
That began this fading Gregorian year
The well-turned compost heap of history
On which we flung the grounds and husks of hope
Expecting little, and so not disappointed
No resolutions, then, no black-eyed peas
No cabbage; let the months fall as they will:
Does the year fail, or is it we who fail?

Seventh Day in the Octave
 of Christmas II

Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.

-Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

Does the year fail, or is it we who fail?
This Octave day opens in darkness cold
And on the radio the same cold news
That began this fading Gregorian year
And ends it, churned by a news-o-matic
To be poured into an old plastic cup
As steaming-hot clich├ęs to be consumed
By the devout, obedient faithful
The faithful, who worship a falling light bulb
Does the year fail, or is it we who fail?

Seventh Day in the Octave
of Christmas III

“O moments big as years!”

-John Keats, "Hyperion"

Does the year fail, or is it we who fail?
This Octave day opens in darkness cold
And on the radio the same dark news
That began this fading Gregorian year
But let us face this next turn of the time
With Aves on our lips and in our hearts
With the cold courage of Crusaders
And the cool kindness of missionaries
And may God grant that never again we ask:
Does the year fail, or is it we who fail?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ten Things You Won't Hear on New Year's

Lawrence Hall

Ten Things You Won’t Hear on New Year’s

  1. Stay up until midnight?  Why?
  2. I’m not making any new year’s resolutions because I don’t need to; last year’s resolutions worked out so well.
  3. We never watch professional football; there’s something un-American about watching millionaires in body armor beat each other up in taxpayer-funded stadia.
  4. Hollywood gave the world such great films last year that I’m hoping they maintain their momentum in artistic quality this year.
  5. On New Year’s we stay up late, almost until nine, playing chess.
  6. No champagne for me, thanks.
  7. Why would anyone spend the first day of the new year watching a network’s morning show b-team over-narrate a parade somewhere in Ohio?
  8.  In the new fiscal year my company will be booking most of its travel with one of those new Asian airlines.  Hey, they’re the future, right?
  9. Blackeyed peas and cabbage?  You’re going to put that stuff in your mouth?  How is that lucky?  Is there a blackeyed-pea-and-cabbage fairy?
  10. Lift your glasses, everyone; I propose a toast to Kim Jong Un and Sony – a marriage made in, well, somewhere.



Friday, December 26, 2014

Der Jong Un's Face

Lawrence Hall


Der Jong Un’s Face


In 1943 Disney released a Donald Duck cartoon, Der Fuhrer’s Face, in which Donald suffers a nightmare as an oppressed German worker in the Nazi time.   When he awakens he quacks that he is thankful to be in the U.S.A.  The film won an Academy Award but after World War II was withdrawn from circulation.  It was unneeded after the victory it helped bring about in some small way, and features cultural stereotypes that make it awkward viewing now. 


Der Fuhrer’s Face is propaganda, never pretended to be anything else, and needs no apology.  Every form of entertainment during World War II was part of the effort, and even when a film or other entertainment was not directly funded by the government it had to be approved by the government.  The entire economy was focused first on staying free and then on winning the war. 


However, long before the USA was in the war (which can be said to have begun in 1933), American filmmakers, free to make whatever movies they thought would sell, chose to show Nazis as evil:  Confessions of a Nazi Spy, The Mortal Storm, Clouds Over Europe, Sabotage, Waterloo Bridge, The Great Dictator, and others.  These films are not propaganda because they were not made under the direction of any government or under duress.


Although there was some Nazi attempt to subvert Hollywood before World War II, it appears to have been unsuccessful.  One cannot imagine the bosses of MGM, RKO, Warner Brothers, Republic, and Disney obeying Nazi orders in the 1930s.


One does not need to imagine an American film studio yield to the threats of a dictator now – because at least one studio has surrendered to a dictator.


Sony has self-censored a recently completed film, The Interview, because of purported / maybe / someone says threats of violence from North Korea.


Almost no one has seen The Interview, a comedy (probably not quite on the level of To Be or Not to Be) making fun of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (“Kim Jong Un” is Korean for “Poisonous Little Toad”).  Reviews of the movie suggest that it probably would have been direct-to-DVD followed by direct-to-the-trash-can.  The unseen film is now famous because of a campaign of, oh, transparency (once known as gossip) and the purported revelation of office tittle-tattle on the Orwellian telescreen.


The film studio’s files were said to have been snooped by North Korea, but one wonders who really did do the Ms. Grundy thing, if it was done at all.  Given the fashion in not checking the facts, from Dan Rather’s editors to Lena Dunham’s editors, one wonders if anything in a book, a newspaper, a television report, or on the Orwellian telescreen can be believed.


Were Sony’s electronic files really compromised?  If so, by whom?  North Korea?  China? Russia?  Or was the spilling of the metaphorical beans an action by a disgruntled, ungruntled, or gruntled employee? 


Der Fuhrer’s Face was wartime propaganda, and, recognized as such, it needs no explanation.  Whether or not American films made after Hollywood’s surrender to Kim Jong Un are foreign propaganda will need much explanation.


This was not a good week for the 1st and 4th amendments to the Constitution.  It wasn’t very good for the humans, either.


This column has not yet been vetted by Harvard Law School, North Korea, or The Brothers Castro.



Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Alligator of the Cave

Lawrence Hall






The Alligator of the Cave


If the shadow behind the shade shifts shapes,

Souls shall shudder at the shimmering show

As shafts of sunlight shine reality

Upon the shabby, shop-soiled shibboleths

That long have formed seductive, sheeny shells,

Those shapeless shields that shutter shamefully

Humanity’s shallow, sheering shoreline

And shatter the shaken shards of constructs sham

To the chagrin of the shaken – but only

If the shadow behind the shade shifts shapes.

Pupils Fixed and Dilated

Lawrence Hall, HSG


Pupils Fixed and Dilated


He was not permitted to die in peace

The only mercy granted was release

From fear and mortars falling from the sky

There was no possibility of saying goodbye

And the river water stank, as did the night

His end was as flickering as the light

Pale gaspings, a fluttering pulse, dead sweat

D5W, battle dressings, and yet

The only mercy was in his release

He was not permitted to died in peace


Noisy, Shiny Things

Lawrence Hall


Noisy, Shiny Things


Loudspeakers dangling from the overhead

A telescreen magically descending

Air, light, and sound electrically controlled

By banks of glowing buttons and monitors

Radiance falling upon the holy drums

Upon the shimmering percussion set

Upon the amplifiers standing on guard

Lest a moment of God’s silence break through

As the people listen obediently to

Loudspeakers dangling from the overhead.

Upon Thoughtlessly Writing "No" in a Book

Lawrence Hall


Upon Thoughtlessly Writing “No” in a Book, The Last Divine Office,

by Geoffrey Moorhouse, Said Book Not The Borrower’s

To Mark, Fold, Bend, Dog-Ear, or Leave Lying Carelessly About


An Apology

To Mr. and Mrs. Jason Petty


Their Heirs and Successors

Princesses to Our Great King


Good Mr. Moorhouse lost the plot

One place in his book at a certain spot:

He curiously praised The Middle Way

(Same old heresies every day);

Your book’s borrower quite forgot himself -

‘Twas not his book from his own shelf -

But egregious Error disturbed him so

He protested with one word: “No”

Written above the offending line

In ink, not neatly, but fine

And, he prays, not obtrusively

Or alienating, you see,

Your children who will someday read

This good, sometimes misleading screed

And wonder why old Mister Mack

Subjected it to rude attack

For such is not the thing to do

To anything borrowed, old or new.

Please know your friend is very sorry

Yesterday, today, and tomorry

Rebuke him in any way you devise

But please spare him arraignment at the assize

And may our Lord please bless us all,

Our Lady, too, for we are small

In faith, unlike good Cuthbert, strong

For God and us – but this is too long

And time it is to make an end

By thanking you for the books you lend

And thanking God for you. Amen.


-Lavrentivs Maccabaeus Brendanvs DeAvla, His Mark: X

Poetry of the Occupation

Lawrence Hall


Poetry of the Occupation


“…trained in the politics of the day, believing the great new system invented

by a genius so great that they never bothered to verify its results.”


-John Steinbeck, The Moon is Down


Political poetry occupies the streets

Brakes squealing to a stop before an idyll

Squads of inclusive stormtroopers disembark

Into men’s souls to enforce unity

Armed with warrants and inquisitions

The bills of indictment already drawn

Needing only a tap upon a screen

To serve in the office of a signature

And sensitive to death the personal life -

Political poetry occupies the streets.

But the Animals were First

Lawrence Hall


But the Animals were First


“We read in Isaiah: ‘The ox knows its owner,

and the ass the master’s crib….’”


-Papa Benedict, The Blessings of Christmas


The ox and ass are in the Stable set

In service divine, as good Isaiah writes

A congregation of God’s creatures met

In honor of their King this Night of nights

And there they wait for us, for we are late

Breathless in the narthex of eternity

A star, a road, a town, an inn, a gate

Have led us to this holy liturgy:

Long centuries and seasons pass, and yet

The ox and ass are in the Stable set.

Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome

Lawrence Hall


Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome


See now Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome

Three celebrants mitred with golden light          

And vested in pillar, temple, and dome

They lift life’s elements in sacred rite:                 

Jerusalem the Wild, where prophets sing

Athens the Reasoner, amid her vines                    

Rome, the Giver of Laws, whose trumpets ring

And send us civilization through wonders and signs                       

In faith and form and word and polychrome -

See now Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome