Sunday, April 28, 2013

Russian Easter - Christos Voskrese!

Christos Voskrese!

For Tod

The world is unusually quiet this dawn
With fading stars withdrawing in good grace
And drowsy, dreaming sunflowers, dewy-drooped,
Their golden crowns all motionless and still,
Stand patiently in their ordered garden rows,
Almost as if they wait for lazy bees
To wake and work, and so begin the day.
A solitary swallow sweeps the sky;
An early finch proclaims his leafy seat
While Old Kashtanka limps around the yard
Snuffling the boundaries on her morning patrol.

Then wide-yawning Mikhail, happily barefoot,
A lump of bread for nibbling in one hand,
A birch switch swishing menace in the other
Appears, and whistles up his father’s cows:
“Hey! Alina, and Antonina! Up!
Up, up, Diana and Dominika!
You, too, Varvara and Valentina!
Pashka is here, and dawn, and spring, and life!”
And they are not reluctant then to rise
From sweet and grassy beds, with udders full,
Cow-gossip-lowing to the dairy barn.

Anastasia lights the ikon lamp
And crosses herself as her mother taught.
She’ll brew the tea, the strong black wake-up tea,
And think about that naughty, handsome Yuri
Who winked at her during the Liturgy
On the holiest midnight of the year.
O pray that watchful Father did not see!
Breakfast will be merry, an echo-feast
Of last night’s eggs, pysanky, sausage, kulich.
And Mother will pack Babushka’s basket,
Because only a mother can do that right

When Father Vasily arrived last night
In a limping Lada haloed in smoke,
The men put out their cigarettes and helped
With every precious vestment, cope, and chain,
For old Saint Basil’s has not its own priest,
Not since the Czar, and Seraphim-Diveyevo
From time to time, for weddings, holy days,
Funerals, supplies the needs of the parish,
Often with Father Vasily (whose mother
Begins most conversations with “My son,
The priest.…”), much to the amusement of all.

Voices fell, temperatures fell, darkness fell
And stars hovered low over the silent fields,
Dark larches, parking lots, and tractor sheds.
Inside the lightless church the priest began
The ancient prayers of desolate emptiness
To which the faithful whispered in reply,
Unworthy mourners at the Garden tomb,
Spiraling deeper and deeper in grief
Until that Word, by Saint Mary Magdalene
Revealed, with candles, hymns, and midnight bells
Spoke light and life to poor but hopeful souls.

The world is unusually quiet this dawn;
The sun is new-lamb warm upon creation,
For Pascha gently rests upon the earth,
This holy Russia, whose martyrs and saints
Enlighten the nations through their witness of faith,
Mercy, blessings, penance, and prayer eternal
Now rising with a resurrection hymn,
And even needful chores are liturgies:
“Christos Voskrese – Christ is risen indeed!”
And Old Kashtanka limps around the yard
Snuffling the boundaries on her morning patrol.

"Ice Machine! Dead Ahead!" - Cruising Route 66 (Sort of)

Mack Hall, HSG

Cruising Route 66

“Come aboard; we’re inspecting you…” 

-      Paraphrasing a line from the Love Boat theme

Foreign-owned bulk carriers of humans have permitted a number of those humans to come to grief the last few years, tragedies which apparently seldom interrupt the clinking of the coins in the counting-houses of the owners.

Neither do those appointed to protect American interests and lives seem much interested in the seaworthiness of flag-of-convenience ships; in this they are not unlike their fellow civil servants who pretend to oversee slaughterhouses in the middle west.  The democratically-elected government of the United States is no more concerned with lives than was the board of directors of the White Star Line.

Until the MV Lyubov Orlova phase of cruising is over, vacationers might want to reconsider the Great American Highway, the ownership of which has not yet been surrendered to our masters in China.  To advance the cause of stayin’ alive by stayin’ in the USA, a few conspirators recently gathered around a battered table in a dank cellar illuminated only by a dripping candle and drew up a manifesto on why a motel room along Route 66 is far superior to a prettily-decorated cell lost somewhere along a confusing corridor of identical cubes on Deck 14C:

1.   A motel never needs lifeboats.

2.   Motel toilets not only flush, they flush into a functioning waste disposal system, not into the hallways.

3.   There is no possibility of a motel sinking at sea.

4.   Motel guests don’t all suffer the same sickness at the same time.

5.   Beneath the motel there are no hot, noisy caves of Nibelungs toiling anonymously.

6.   Raw sewage isn’t likely to flood the motel, but if it does you can step outside and walk away from it.

7.   Pirates don’t hijack motels.

8.   “My Pancreas Must Go On” – no one ever inflicted onto the world an insta-emo song about the persistence of body parts after the destruction of a motel.

9.   The night manager cannot possibly run the motel onto rocks.

10. No one ever fell off the porch of a motel and drowned in an asphalt parking lot.

11. Motion sickness is not a problem in a motel.

12. The desk clerk doesn’t search through all your stuff and confiscate your beverages, your snacks, your Swiss Army Knife, and your dignity.

13. No buffets of food fermenting at room temperature.

14. No tipping the caretakers.

15. Your motel room does not sit atop 700,000 gallons of fuel.

16. Finally, there is no seaman on watch atop the roof of a motel along a desert highway crying down to the office “Iceberg!  Dead ahead!”   

“Ice machine!  Dead ahead!”  Now that’s much better.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Russians in Moc Hoa

I read lots of Russian lit (in translation, of course) while in Viet-Nam

Mack Hall, HSG

Russians in Moc Hoa

I understood poor, young Raskolnikov
And read all I found by Anton Chekhov
Remembered nothing about Bulgakhov
Heard naughty whispers about Nabokov
Thrilled to the Cossacks in old Sholokov
And then I learned about Kalashnikov –
This, I decided, is where I get off!

Saturday Morning Thoughts Over Coffee With Other Old Geezers

Mack Hall, HSG

Saturday Morning Thoughts Over Coffee With Other Old Geezers

If American money is so worthless, why does our government take it away from us under penalty of imprisonment? And why does our money go to people who don’t like us?…

So that’s what a thousand-dollars-an-hour, um, friend looks like. Yawn.…

Is the rebuilding of Iraq going any better than the eternal rebuilding of Interstate 10 between Orange and Beaumont?…

Tibet has risen in an unorganized but fierce rebellion against its Chinese occupiers. The streets of Lhasa are smoking with the fires of burnt cars and shops, people are hiding inside their houses, Tibetans are beating up and maybe killing Han Chinese, and Han Chinese are beating up and maybe killing Tibetans. The curious thing is that no one has yet blamed America. Well, maybe the Reverend Doctor Wright has.…

Some ministers are certainly tacking on the adjectives these days. Brother Noisy is now The Reverend Doctor Bishop Noisy. But just what university grants degrees in shouting at people?…

What, exactly, is a superdelegate? Does he leap tall voters in a single bound?…

Presidential candidate Senator / Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to control the evil, wicked, greedy oil companies who explore, drill, ship, and process oil despite increasing taxes, regulations, and criticism. The federal government’s record in regulating into oblivion passenger trains, hospitals, physicians, and our national borders suggests that this is probably not a good idea.…

Democrats in Florida and Michigan may get to vote for a second time in the Democratic Party primaries because the Democratic Party did not permit their votes to matter the first time. The Democratic Party in Texas held both primary elections and primary caucuses, so the old gag about Vote Early, Vote Often really is true. Even so, superdelegates can override the state primaries. So does anyone really know what’s going on?…

What is a subprime lender? What is a subprime anything? Is there a superprime?…

If a car can be pre-owned, does that mean it can also be post-owned?…

The very limited and highly-regulated sealing season is about to commence in Newfoundland, so expect the usual pictures of cute widdle iddy biddy baby seals, carnivorous varmints who are as about as cuddly as rabid raccoons on crack, being clubbed to death. Then in our profound sorrow we can all drive past the abortion clinic to the fast-food joint for some dead cow. It is a pity, though – a pity that the pelts of carnivore-rights activists aren’t worth anything.…

Why doesn’t anyone feel sorry for the cute little fishies and other marine life who die screaming in the greedy jaws of evil seals? Where are the eel-rights activists?…

Does progress mean that soon we will watch embarrassed husbands standing bravely by, shedding a tear or two, as their middle-aged wives confess to kinky, um, chess with 20-something boys and stealing public funds?

Always Wear a Clean Shirt at a Wedding

Mack Hall, HSG

Always Wear a Clean Shirt at a Wedding

During the recent royal wedding one could not help noticing the wild, bizarre headgear that seemed to detract from the sacredness of the occasion – I refer to hairy Prince Harry’s hair, of course. He seemed to be channeling Donald Trump. Oh, the follicles of one’s youth!

Prince Harry was in military uniform, and one wonders why his commanding officer didn’t tell him “Lieutenant, prince or no prince, you get that hair cut to regulation.”

Otherwise, how good to see women wearing hats in church and men respectfully bareheaded in the presence of God. Many middle-aged men have done great harm with the me-me-me thing of teaching younger men that respect for God, women, and country is secondary to keeping one’s costume ballcap on during all occasions because, like, y’know, this cap is who I am.

Yes, what man does not want to be a made-in-China cap?

The young princes, both pilots, looked great in their uniforms, and their families and friends were very proud of them. One imagines the awkwardness of someone opposed to military service getting married: “The groom and best man were resplendent in matching cable-knit sweaters.”

No one in the congregation displayed a cell ‘phone. Now that’s class.

No one in the congregation wore tee-shirts.

No one in the congregation wore advertising on his or her clothing.

No guitars. Thank God.

No cringe-making amateur musical moments.

No microphones or loudspeakers dangling from the ceiling.

No miscued audiotapes of “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”

No one in the congregation called out “Where’s the birth certificate, William!?”

Baby sister as maid of honor and baby brother as best man – a brilliant way of avoiding squabbles and crowds on the altar.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London both mentioned God. This could distress NBC and CBS.

There were no air-raid sirens during the wedding; NATO hasn’t yet gotten around to bombing England.

Some gossipy old women on the television judged the guest list and found it wanting. Hey, Miz Grundy and Aunt Pittypat, not your call, okay? Not your family, not your decision. Just be happy if your own children ask you to their weddings.

Finally, although the wedding pictures were lovely, let us not neglect the great photograph of Princess Kate in khaki and boots in a muddy field, a shotgun in one hand and a brace of fowl in the other. Now that’s an English princess of the old school! Cue that country song about the tractor.


With Our Thrift-Shop Televisions We Will Conquer the World

Mack Hall, HSG

With Our Thrift-Shop Televisions We Will Conquer the World

With the death of what’s-his-name in a small airborne assault in the great tradition of American raiders dating back to John Paul Jones, the world waits and wonders and ponders this great question: couldn’t the Scourge of Allah afford a better television set?

Did anyone ever tell The Pride of Riyadh “Hey, Fatwallah Guy, they’ve got flat screens now. I can score you one down at the souk for maybe two hundred filthy pagan dollars.”

But The Big Wookie was apparently comfortable with his thrift shop 15-inch and his Just For Bin dye job. Images of the old poop show him squatting on the floor huddled in a blanket and surfing the channels in a filthy room that any monotoothed Hardin County nester would disdain.

Wikipedia reports that the Lyin’ of the Desert’s favorite activities were charity, reading, horses, writing poetry, and following the English soccer team Arsenal. He was a soft-spoken man who perhaps enjoyed walks on the beach and candle-light beheadings of infidels. Hey, girls, isn’t that pretty much the blind date your well-meaning cousin set you up with after your guy Skippy cheated on you with your best friend Tammy?

The Big O was quite the family man, too. No one is clear on just how many wives he infested, and several of his exes (none in Texas) were never seen again. He sperm-donored some 20-25 children, and before his death was living with three wives, which may explain the haunted look on his face.

Did this Ward Cleaver of the Sands attend PTA meetings?

And imagine the home life of the family:

“Daddy, daddy! We’re playing Arabs and Jews, and Brother #12 won’t ever let me be the Arab! Why do I have to be tortured and beheaded all the time?”

“Now, boys, your father’s very busy plotting world domination and global genocide of the infidels; you go outside and play with the nice new Russian Kalashnikovs he gave you for World Peace Day.”

“Aw, shucks, honey, you’re the greatest. I think I’ll wait awhile before having you stoned to death.”

The sad reality is that Lurch was an evil man, a genocidal maniac who inspired others to murder thousands of people, most of them of his own religion. This spoiled son of the rich was technically trained but not educated, and loved machines – especially machine guns – but disposed of humans as mere obstacles to his demon-haunted fantasies of a perfect world.

When a good man dies one often says “We shall not see his like again,” and this is true. All good men exhibit the traits of honesty, loyalty, courage, and civilization, and yet they really are individuals.

But the evil little men who bedevil the world – they are drainage-ditch-common, mumbling and muttering as they listen to The Voices in grubby rented rooms or even grubbier tents, scribbling into their notebooks or tapping into their machines their eternal shrieks against God and man, their endlessly recycled versions of Mein Kampf, The Turner Diaries, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Das Kapital, and warehouses full of sophomoric manifestos.

Alas that we will see his like again.


The Class of 2011

Mack Hall, HSG


Children insist on growing up and going away. Their teachers are not happy about that. Really. Every year the old…um…venerable faculty see their high school seniors off to the new world they will make for themselves. Oh, sure, there are always one or two of whom one can sing “Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone,” but the loss of most of the students is very real, very painful, and very forever. And while the teachers taught them not to ever split infinitives (cough), which they immediately forget, the block form for business letters, which they usually remember, and the possible symbolism of Grendel in Beowulf, there are always lots of other little things one hopes they have learned along the way.

Here then, Class of 2011 are some disconnected factoids your old English teacher meant to tell you earlier in the year, before the month of May very cleverly sneaked up on all of us:

1. In October you will return for homecoming. You will find pretty much the same teachers, school, and friends you left behind. It will all seem very familiar at first. But you won’t be on the team or in the band; it isn’t about you anymore, and that will be oddly disturbing. By October of 2012 most of the students in your old high school won’t know who you are -- or were. And they won't care. You'll just be old people.

2. Some day surprisingly soon you will hear shrieks of insolent laughter from your child’s room. You will find your child and her friends laughing at your yearbook pictures. You will feel very old.

3. Change the oil in your car more often than the manufacturer recommends.

4. Billy Graham attended a public school; Adolf Hitler attended a Christian school. Don’t obsess on labels.

5. You are not going to win the Texas lottery.

6. T-shirts are underwear.

7. MyFace, SpaceBook, Tweeter, and all the rest are surprisingly dangerous to your career and to your safety.

8. When posing for a photograph, never hold your hands folded in front of, um, a certain area of your anatomy. It makes you look as if you just discovered that your zipper is undone.

9. Have you ever noticed that you never see “Matthew 6:5-6” on a bumper sticker?

10. College is not high school.

11. Work is not high school. There is no such thing as an excused absence in adult life. The boss will not care about your special needs, sensitivities, artistic gifts, or traumatic childhood.

12. God made the world. We have the testimony of Genesis and of the Incarnation that all Creation is good. Never let anyone tell you that the world is evil.

13. Most people are good, and can be trusted. But the two-per-centers, like hemorrhoids, do tend to get your attention.

14. Listening to radio commentators with whom you already agree is not participating in our democracy. Until he was in his thirties, Rush Limbaugh never even registered to vote in any place he ever lived. You can do better than that.

15. Why should someone else have to raise your child?

16. Tattoos do have one useful purpose – they will help your relatives identify your body after you die of some weird disease that was on the needle. Oh, yeah, sure, the process is sterile – a tattoo parlor looks like a hospital, right?

17. Your class ranking is little more than a seating chart for graduation, reflecting your performance in a sometimes artificial and often passive situation for the last four years. Your future is up to you.

18. Knowing how to repair things gives you power and autonomy. You will amaze yourself with what you can do with duct-tape, a set of screwdrivers, a set of wrenches, a hammer, and a pair of Vise-grip pliers.

19. Movies are made by committees. Sometimes they get it right. Books are usually written by one person. Sometimes he or she gets it wrong. But there are lots more good books than there are good movies.

20. Put the 'phone down. Grasp the steering wheel firmly with both hands. Stay alive.

21. Save the planet? Reform the establishment? Stop meanies from beating harp seals to death? Get a job first.

22. Time to wear the big-boy pants.

23. Some people are Democrats because they believe the Democratic Party is best at protecting the rights of the individual. Other people are Democrats because they are part of the Socialist / Communist continuum and believe that government is a weapon to bludgeon people into obedience. Some people are Republicans because they believe the Republican Party is best at protecting the rights of the individual. Other people are Republicans because they have Fascist tendencies and believe that government is a weapon to bludgeon people into obedience. Hiding out in the woods and refusing to participate is not a logical option.

24. Everyone tells cheerleader jokes, but cheerleaders are among the most successful people in adult life. The discipline, the hard work, the physical demands, the aesthetics, the teamwork, and the refusal to die of embarrassment while one’s mother screams abuse at the cheerleader sponsor do pay off in life.

25. You are the “they.” You are the adult. You are the government. You are the Church. You are the public school system. You decide what will be on the television screen in your home. Your life is your own – don’t become one of the bleating, tweeting sheep.

26. Giving back to the community begins now. Do something as an act of service to humanity -- join the volunteer fire department, teach Sunday school, clean up the city park one hour a week, assist at the nursing home.

27. Don’t bore people with sad stories about your horrible childhood. No one ever lived a Leave It To Beaver or Cosby existence. Get over the narcissism.

28. The shouting, abusive, 1-900-Send-Money TV preacher with the bouffant hairdo strutting about on the low-prole stage set while beating on a Bible and yelling is not going to come to the house in the middle of the night when your child is dying, you don’t have a job, and you don’t know where to turn. Your pastor – Chaucer’s Parsoun -- may not be cool, may not be a clever speaker, may not sport a Rolex watch, and may not have a really bad wig, but he’s here for you.

29. If you insist on taking your shirt off in public, shave your armpit hair. Or braid it. Or something.

30. Don’t wear a shirt that says “(bleep) Civilization” to a job interview.

31. When someone asks for a love offering, offer him your love and watch his reaction. He doesn’t want a love offering; he wants money. Sloppy language is used to manipulate people. Call things by their proper names, and hang on to your wallet.

32. Stop eating out of bags and boxes. Learn how to use a knife and fork.

33. Life is not a beer commercial.

34. On the Monday after graduation you’ll be just another unemployed American.

35. When you find yourself facing a dinner setting with more than two forks, don’t panic; no one else knows quite what to do with three forks either. No one’s watching anyway, so just enjoy the meal.

36. What is the truth? Is it something you want to believe? Something repeated over and over until you come to believe it in spite of your own experience?

37. Green ideology means that gasoline costs more than you make.

38. A great secret to success in a job or in life is simply to show up.

39. No one ever agrees on where commas go. If someone shows you a grammar book dictating the use of commas one way, you can find another grammar book to contradict it.

40. Most people do not look good in baseball caps.

41. There is no such thing as a non-denominational worship service.

42. You will always be your parents’ child. You may become a doctor, lawyer, banker, or, God help you, president, but your mother will still ask you if you’ve had enough to eat and remind you to take your jacket in case the night turns cold. And parents are a constant surprise -- they always have new knowledge you need to acquire.

43. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is all the English grammar and usage book you’ll ever need. If more people understood that and had a library card, every English teacher in America would be an ex-English teacher standing in line at the Wal-Mart employment office. Keep it a secret, okay?

44. From now on the menus should be in words, not pictures.

45. According to some vaguely named family institute or some such, raising a child to the age of eighteen costs the family $153,000 and a few odd cents. The taxpayers of this state spend about $5,000 per year on each student. Thus, a great many people have pooled their resources and spent about $213,000 on you since you were born. They did not do this in order for you to sit around complaining about how unfair life is.

46. There was never a powerful secret society variously known as The Preps, The Rich Kids, or The Popular Kids, just as there are no unmarked U.N. helicopters. But if you ask me, those guys who play chess need watching; I hear that the pawns are reporting all your movements to The 666 Beast computer in Belgium via computer chips in your school i.d. card.

47. Thank you notes: write ’em. It shows class. You can write; you’re a high school graduate, remember?

48. Don’t reach for the pen in someone else’s pocket. Carry your own.

49. The school award you should have received: For Compassion. While I must confess that I was happy to see some of you on a daily basis because that way I was sure my tires would be safe, there was never one single instance of any of you taking any advantage or being unkind in any way to those who were emotionally or physically vulnerable. Indeed, most of you took the extra step in being very protective of the very special young people who are blended into the student population. There is no nicely-framed award for that compassion, not here, anyway, but even now there is one with your name on it on the walls of a mansion which, we are assured, awaits each of us, in a house with many mansions. God never asked you to be theologically correct; He asked you to be compassionate, and you were. Keep the kindness within you always.

50. Take a long, lingering look at your classmates during graduation. You’ll never see all of them ever again. In ten years many of you will be happy and honorable. Others will have failed life, and at only 28 will be sad, tired, bitter old men and women with no hope. Given that you all went to the same cinder-block school with the same blinky fluorescent lights, suffered the same old boring teachers, drove along the same dusty roads, and grew up in the same fading little town, what will have made the difference?

Well, Class of 2011, it’s time to let go. Thanks for everything: for the paper balls and pizza and pep rallies and recitals and concerts and games, for your thoughts and essays, for your laughter and jokes, for usually paying attention to roll call (“Focus, class... focus...focus...focus...”), for really thinking about Macbeth and Becket and Beowulf, and those wonderful pilgrims (who, of course, are us) forever journeying to Canterbury, for doing those business letters and resumes’ over and over until YOU were proud of them, for wrestling with iambic pentameter, for all the love you gave everyone around you every day. Take all those good things with you in your adventures through life.

And whether we shall meet again I know not.
Therefore our everlasting farewell take:
For ever, and for ever, farewell...

--Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, IV.iii.115-117


Searching for Sight

Mack Hall, HSG

Searching for Sight

 No one assures you that lenses are green
That spectacles are recycled from waste
That the optometrist’s glow-in-the-dark
Boxes, little lights in white, green, and red,
Are cultivated by fair-trade farmers
Along the Neckar River in Hungary
Where no one needs glasses to speak Magyar.
Eyes, like cans of squash, have expiration dates
And must be renewed and refreshed each year
With little boxed lights in white, green, and red
And a thirty-something voice assuring you
That your eyes are good – for someone your age.
Words spilling out like a soft cataract
Of diffuse, bubbling comfort for a year
With eyes recycled once again the seer
Seeks for the book store and the coffee shop
New books, fresh cups, old dreams held at odd angles

On Your Mobile Device

Mack Hall, HSG

On Your Mobile Device

Life now approaches not as a basket
Of new kittens, or an old dog asleep
In the summer sun, a letter, a clock,
A vase of flowers on the kitchen table,
A glass of beer with a friend, a soft wind,
Cold moonlight slanting through the autumn leaves,
Or a wild thunderstorm that makes one glad
To doze inside with a book and a pipe.
Oh, no.  Because life now is but an app
A-blinking on a little plastic box:
The weather, stocks, throats slit in Arkansas,
An actress drunk again in Hollywood,
All, all repose in one’s pants pocket with
Keys, coins, a bit of lint, a pocket knife,
Those relics of an irrelevant past;
We need them not: we have a plastic box.

20 September 1870

Mack Hall, HSG

20 September 1870

Like vultures hovering over the faithful dead
The rank red rags of base repression hung
Upon the blast-breeched walls of captive Rome;
The smoke of conquest fouled the ancient streets
While mocking conquerors marched their betters
At the point of enlightened bayonets
To the scientific future, murdering those
Who bore themselves with quiet dignity.

False, sinister Savoy sneered in disdain
At ancient truths, this costumed reprobate
Who played at soldier once the firing ceased,
And claimed Saint Peter’s patrimony on
The corpses of the merely useful who
With this day’s slogans fresh upon their lips
At dawn advanced upon the remnant walls
So thinly held by so few Papal Zouaves
And thus befeathered fat Vittorio
Was given his victory by better men
On both sides there, their corpses looted by
The pallid inheritors of Progress.
The son of a Sardinian spurred his horse
Along the streets of now obedient Rome,
And to the Quirinal by a passage broad,1
And finally to the Ardeatine Caves.

1Paradise Lost X.404

Roadside Detractions

Mack Hall, HSG

Roadside Detractions

An empty cigarette packet smokeless
An empty chewing gum wrapper gumless
An empty soda bottle sodaless
An empty chicken basket chickenless
An empty shell casing, yes, bulletless
And this is the road America walks
To its vague YouTubeifest destiny

The Sky to Moc Hoa

Mack Hall, HSG

                                                              The Sky to Moc Hoa

The sky to Moc Hoa is hazily blue,
Layered between heat and Heaven. The damp
Rots even the air with the menace of death.
The ground below, all green and holed, dies too;
It seems to gasp: You will not live, young lad,
You will not live to read your books or dream
About a little room, a fire, a pipe,
A chair, a pen, a dog, a truth-told poem
Flung courteously in manuscript pages
Upon a coffee-stained table, halo’d
In a 60-watt puddle of lamp-light.

You skinny, stupid kid. You will not live.

Then circling, and circling again, again,
Searching, perhaps, for festive rotting meals,
Down-spinning, fear-spinning onto Moc Hoa,
Palm trees, iron roofs, spinning in a dead sun,
Spinning up to a swing-ship spinning down.
A square of iron matting in a green marsh,
Hot, green, wet, fetid with old Samsara.

Gunboats diesel across the Van Co Tay,
Little green gunboats, red nylon mail sacks,
Engines, cheery yells, sloshing mud, heat, rot.
Mail sacks off, mail sacks on, men off, men on,
Dark blades beating against the heavy heat,
The door gunners, the pilot impatient.
All clear to lift, heads down, humans crouching
Ape-like against the grass, against the slime
In sweating, stinking, slinking, feral fear
As the dragon-blades roar and finally fly,
And the beaten grass and beaten men
Now stand again erect in gasping heat,
Some silent in a new and fearful world.

You will not live, young hero; you will die.
What then of Dostoyevsky and Chekhov?
What then of your Modern Library editions,
A dollar each at the Stars & Stripes store
Far away and long ago in DaNang,
All marked and underlined?
                                             What is the point?
What then of your notebook scribbled with words,
Your weak attempts at poetry? So sad,
So irrelevant in the nights of death.
The corpses on the gunboat decks won’t care,
Their flare-lit faces staring into smoke
At 0-Two-Damned Thirty in the morning –
Of what truth or beauty are your words to them?
You haven’t any words anyway;
They’re out of movies and books, all of them.
What truth can adventure-story words speak
To corpses with their eyes eaten away?
Write your used emotions onto a page;
You haven’t any emotions anyway;
They’re out of the past, all of them.
What truth can used emotions speak to death?
So sling your useless gear aboard the boat:
A seabag of utilities, clean socks,
Letters, a pocket knife, a Rosary,
Some underwear, some dreams, and lots of books.
And board yourself. Try not to fall, to drown,
To be a floating bloating, eyeless face.
Not yet. Think of your books, your words.
Look up:The sky to Moc Hoa is hazily blue.


1. Moc Hoa, pronounced Mock Wah -- a town on the Vam Co Tay River near the border with Cambodia.

2. “Young lad” or “lad” – employed sarcastically of recruits by chief petty officers.

3. “Young hero” – employed sarcastically of recruits by chief petty officers and of Navy Corpsman in Field Medical Service School by Marine sergeant-instructors.

4. Utilities – heavy, olive-drab, 1950s style Marine Corps battle-dress issued to Navy personnel on their way to Viet-Nam. Too darned hot. I had to scrounge lighter clothing.

5. Samsara – in some Eastern religions the ocean of birth and death.

English Ivy

Mack Hall, HSG

English Ivy

Why do some call this vine an English ivy?
Does it wear tweeds, call for a cup of tea,
And tut-tut over a pipe and The Times?
But far away from England climbs this vine,
Far up the bark and branches of an oak
Wanting to see, perhaps, the spring-blue sky,
A squirrel’s nest, the perfect leaf, a bird
Spying on the curious cats below,
On pups in happy repose, tummies up
To the dog-friendly sun. 
                                      O peaceful vine!
Your contract is renewed each day without
An interview, evaluation, or
The filing of an annual report.
You play your days in leafy-green ascent,
Dependant on your sturdy tree, yourself
A pastoral road for ladybugs and ants,
The occasional ceremonial worm
Or caterpillar; an auditor of
The coos and whos and cawks and squawks and trills
There cooed and who’d and cawk’d and squawked and trilled
By merry jays and robins, mockingbirds,
And silly, so-sad-seeming whippoorwills.
Oh, ivy, glad indeed, to celebrate
Your liturgical seasons dutifully!

It's on the 'Net; It Must be True

Mack Hall, HSG
It’s on the ‘Net; It Must be True

Alexander Graham Bell, a Canadian who was born in Scotland, invented the telephone so that young Americans could use the thing to talk, text, tweet, and twit to each other during high school graduation and thus ignore high school graduation.  Since Mr. Bell never finished school, we may appreciate the layers of irony.

In May of every year, like buzzards returning to wherever it is buzzards return to, tiresome screeds about the ignorance of graduates arrive to roost in one’s in-box. 

One of the most popular is wrongly attributed to Bill Gates, another successful fellow who did not finish school and who does not write silly stuff, and is usually titled “Rules They Didn’t Teach You in School” or some such, and is forwarded by the sort of people who never vote in their local school board elections because they’re too busy complaining.

The idea of hopeless naivete is not true of most high school students, and it’s certainly not true of college students.  Very few graduates ever finish a degree on the mummy-and-daddy nickel, and for those who do, well, good for their mums and dads.

The reality is that most college students work their way through school, usually in minimum-wage jobs and at odd hours.  A student who works the night shift flipping burgers can only wonder about why he is falsely stereotyped as someone who thinks he’s too good to flip burgers.

My daughter spent some college time shoveling (Newark, New Jersey) in a stable.  Hamburgers would have been better.

Any college classroom will feature, yes, a few princesses of both sexes, but they are far outnumbered by folks who know their way around the loading dock, Afghanistan, and hospital wards at 0-Dark-Thirty, and who can wield with great skill an M4, a broom, and a bedpan.

One of my fish English students was a former sergeant who left the Army after sixteen years.  When I asked him why he didn’t finish his twenty he said that after three combat tours in the desert he figured he had pushed his luck enough.

He and his mates studied English literature in a college hydraulics lab because of a shortage of classroom space.  No ivy grew on the equipment.

Two of my students were in their mid-thirties, had been pals from childhood, owned a roofing company, and were nursing students.  In their late thirties, they said they were getting a little old for climbing up on roofs all the year ‘round and were going to sell the company and work in the shade for a while.  I asked them why they didn’t keep the company and spend well-earned time out of the sun by delegating more authority to their employees.  They said that their names were on each roof (metaphorically), and that they would never sign off on a job if they didn’t have first-hand knowledge of each square inch of that roof.

Oh, yeah, some dumb college kids, huh?

Age and experience are good, but they are only predictors: there are adult students who become angry when they are required to show up on time (which, presumably, was required of them on the job) and actually do some work (ditto).  In the same class there can be 18-year-olds demonstrating a far better work ethic (not the one texting behind her Volkswagen-size purse, second seat, second table on the right) than their elders.

In the end, success is almost always the result of an individual’s choice to show up for work, whether on the factory floor or in the classroom, and hit a lick at it.

That is, after the individual takes the tin cricket out of his ear.  In school we were taught that in ye olden days of yore crazy people who stumbled around mumbling to themselves were kept safely away from others by being chained to a wall somewhere.  We thought that was a bad punishment.  Silly us.

One of life’s lessons – it needn’t come from the classroom – is that stereotyping is wrong.  Just because something’s on the ‘net doesn’t mean it’s true.  Those giddy folks waving their diplomae (“diplomae,” he wrote, for he had been to night school) around and yelling almost surely worked very hard for the moment, both in and out of the classrooms and laboratories.

How Many Dead Aggies Does it Take...?

Mack Hall

College Station, where there is a college but no station, is segregating a section of its new city cemetery for Aggies only.

There is no word yet on whether the Aggies-only section will rest adjacent to the exclusive Elvis impersonator section. The answer might be indexed in the official guide to funerals in America, Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One.
Ross Albrecht (’84), marketing manager for the new cemetery, told the Associated Press that the use of Texas A & M symbols will be “correct and respectful.” The entrance to the Aggie section will be a “Spirit Gate” between two concrete columns faked up to look like limestone, and for the discerning Aggie there’s nothing that says correct and respectful like chunks of concrete painted to look like something else.

Correct and respectful pallbearers could be rounded up from The Dixie Chicken.

Maybe the maroon Aggie hearse will be drawn to the cemetery by twelve little Reveilles wearing maroon mourning plumes.

Although Texas A & M has no direct connection with the city cemetery, the school will license the use of trademarked A & M logos and other symbols. This means that if you – for reasons best known to yourself – wish to have your mortal remains decorated with an image of Ol’ Sarge, you will have to pay Texas A & M for permission.

Licensing agreements guarantee the quality of Texas A & M’s acounts receivable. The difference between a cheap, unlicensed, made-in-China tee-shirt proclaiming “Fightin’ Texas Aggies” and another cheap, licensed, made-in-China tee shirt proclaiming “Fightin’ Texas Aggies” is, well, nothing except a tag.

Will we ever see a tee proclaiming “Studyin’ Texas Aggies?”

Made-in-China Texas A & M coffee cups, made-in-China Texas A & M neckties, made-in-China Texas A & M lunch buckets, Made-in-China Texas A & M portable toilets, and now, dug-in-College Station Texas A & M holes in the ground, license fees payable to the university.

And some people say America isn’t a religious country.

A sales brochure preaches "The concept is that the Spirit of Aggieland travels in a ceremonial way from the campus to the Aggie Field of Honor through this final gateway." If that isn’t straight out of the Gospels I don’t what is.

At this writing no one is clear whether or not having posed nude or semi-nude will be a bar to resting in peace in The Aggie Field of Honor.

If the University of San Francisco were to feature a cemetery, would the trustees establish an Eternal Joint exuding faux marijuana smoke in The Mahareshi Yoga Guru Garden of Like, You Know, Where It Is Forever 1968?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology would have to license Star Trek Action Figure grave markers from Paramount. Funeral services might be offered in Klingon.

A beauty school – the Dear Departed is buried with a 21-hair-dryer salute.

Good ol’ A & M, coming up with a brand-new century-old tradition every year or so.

But what if…just what if Aggies who Pass On To The Other Side make their last Whoop! at the pearly gates only to discover that Saint Peter wears burnt orange?

Hullabaloo, caneck, caneck!

A Makeshift Shrine

Mack Hall, HSG

A Makeshift Shrine

Teddy bears ribboned to a chain-link fence,
Plastic-wrapped flowers stacked like compost,
Dime-store candles flickering in the exhaust
Of passing mini-vans.  The inanity
Of filler-language falls, descends upon
The shattered souls of the barely alive,
The dead cliches’ of well-planned camera-grief:
“Our hearts and thoughts go out you.”
What does that mean?  Nothing but conventional noise
For generations of lovers and mourners
Long-ago looted of reality,
Programmed with state-sanctioned hyperbole,
And mourners now are left with nothing but
An existential howl against the light,
Sodium-vapor upon broken glass,
While strident Men of Destiny
There rake for votes among the ashes of death.

Come Laughing Home at Twilight

Mack Hall, HSG

Come Laughing Home at Twilight

And, O!  Wasn’t he just the Jack the lad,

A’swellin’ down the Water Street as if –

As if he owned the very paving stones!

He was my beautiful boy, and, sure,

The girls they thought so too: his eyes, his walk;

A man of Newfoundland, my small big man,

Just seventeen, but strong and bold and sure.

Where is he now?  Can you tell me?  Can you?

Don’t tell me he was England’s finest, no –

He was my finest, him and his Da,

His Da, who breathed in sorrow, and was lost,

They say, lost in the fog, among the ice.

But no, he too was killed on the first of July

Only it took him months to cast away,

And drift away, far away, in the mist.

Where is he now?  Can you tell me?  Can you?

I need no kings nor no Kaisers, no,

Nor no statues with fine words writ on’em,

Nor no flags nor no Last Post today:

I only want to see my men come home,

Come laughing home at twilight, boots all mucky,

An’ me fussin’ at ‘em for being’ late,

Come laughing home at twilight...

1.   4 July 2012, Wednesday

The Staretz

In middle life the sunflower bends its head,

No longer to the sun as in its youth,

But to the earth in all humility,

Ripening for us all its dreams and works,

And aging happily to eternal dawn.

2.   15 July 2012.  Sunday.  St. Swithin’s Day

The Farmer to Saint Swithin

O good Saint Swithin, please, to you we pray,

On this your high summer rain-making day –

Of your blest kindness send us sweet, soft showers,

The kind that gently fall for hours and hours,

To heal the sunburnt land of thirst and drought

And nourish the corn that sees the winter out;

And if you grant the boon we humbly ask

We’ll work the harder on each rural task:

We’ll ditch and fence and plough, and milk the cow,

Share with the widder-folk, and feed the sow,

Count out some plantful seeds for poor folks’ needs,

And daily tell God’s Mysteries on our beads.

3.   16 July 2012. Monday. Carmel


The incense of the mountains drifts along

The arroyos, and into the narrow streets

Of Taos at dawn, the breath, perhaps, of God.

4.   17 July 2012, Tuesday.

Song Dancer Wind Something Woman

(slowly, soothingly)

Like, you know, crystals are so last week’s feeds;

Magic rocks are the latest transcendence,

Drawing from the mountains the soul’s desire

To be one with the one-ness of all things,

Warmed by the desires of the seeking heart,

These rocks, blessed by the, like, ancient peoples

Bring peace and healing to the soul and spirit


And, like, I don’t care what people say

About me and what I done in high school

‘cause that ain’t, like, none of their business

And these people that don’t know me judge me

But they’re in darkness I have found the truth

In Transcendental Earth One-Ness as taught

By the One and he likes me anyway.

(parking-lot cat-fight speed)

And I know what you said about my past

You ***** but I know the Oneness of all

And you’ll never get that, you *****, since you’re

All high and mighty and hoyty-toyty

In that fancy cowboy church you think’s

Gon’ bring you happiness but you’re nothing

But a ***** and I know the truth of One…

Brightly-Colored Brick Pits

Mack Hall, HSG
April, 2013

Brightly-Colored Brick Pits

On Saturday night ABC, in a worthy annual tradition, once again broadcast Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.  Loud, long, and somewhat bombastic (“So let it be written.  So let it be done.”), the film is dismissed by the more precious sort of cineaste but beloved by everyone else.

In 1956, filmmakers understood the difference between color and monotone – when they made a film in color, the COLOR was capitalized (metaphorically).  The red in Pharaoh’s crown was definitely RED, and the blue of the queen’s dress was most assuredly BLUE.

The tendency now is to make color films as if the world had never been blessed with rainbows.  Most contemporary movies and tellyvision depressants inflict on the viewer a sad little palette of colors redolent of charcoal on cheap paper in art class. Gloom and diminished lighting are art; colors are plebeian.

And let the people say “Existential.”

The reality is that the world is in color -- the flowers this spring, for instance, have been taking Technicolor™ classes.  Lovely!  Monotone is good for what was once known as socialist realism (industrial scenes), and Georgia O’Keefe employed black-and-white to study forms, but Creation really is in color.

As for the brick pits in Goshen, not so much color, but that’s not God’s fault.  Pharaoh was practicing his own form of socialism realism – the people laboring in the heat and filth while he and his family lounged under the awnings in their cute little outfits.  Thank goodness that sort of thing never happens in a republic.

Charlton Heston as Moses is a multi-generational favorite; most movies on religious themes enjoy a brief spasm of popularity and then disappear into some storage unit in West Hollywood.  Every three or so years a new film based on some point of Jewish or Christian heritage is promoted with all the clanging and crashing of Moses presenting Ethiopian loot to the Egyptian court, and the ‘net is asludge with reviews gushing “this is the way it must have been!”  Congregations hire the film for showing in the church hall and enthusiastic fans put up posters and hand out flyers after divine services.  The magic lantern show is a two weeks’ wonder and is then forgotten.

The brick pits of Egypt are now the multi-story factories of the far east in which acid-burned hands labor long hours in heat and dust and chemical fumes to make for us  shoes and garments and plastic boxes that light up and make noises.  

Where is their Moses?

And where is their filmmaker?