Monday, July 28, 2014

Hummingbirds at Breakfast and War

Lawrence Hall

Hummingbirds at Breakfast and War

At breakfast hummingbirds are very rude
They bully each other out of the way
As if there won’t be enough hummer food
For the most important meal of the day

They’re sweet little birds, their defenders say,
But even at meals they’re an avian disgrace
They will not pause their beak-to-beak melee’
Since each one thinks it’s born a combat ace

So give those tiny tough guys lots of space
For they are ever a quarrelsome brood
And drink your coffee in some other place:
At breakfast hummingbirds are very rude

July is Not a Thinking Month

Lawrence Hall

July is Not a Thinking Month

July is not a thinking month
The heat and the humidity
Fatigue the world into stillness
And the mind into apathy
A sort of headache of the soul
Cicadas in the midday sun
Mosquitoes in the midnight moon
Reduce even idle dreams to dust;
To read, to think: impossible

Dragonfly on Patrol

Lawrence Hall

Dragonfly on Patrol

While droning through the midday heat
On wings which wildly, swiftly beat
A dragonfly on lawn patrol
Then executes a perfect roll
And makes a challenge face to face:
Who violated his air space?
Signals are given and received
The password’s good; no one’s deceived;
He lifts again with an expert jerk;
An old man, too, returns to work.

La Conquistadora

Lawrence Hall

La Conquistadora

In the long ago La Conquistadora
Conquered us, without conquering at all;
She sits in state among the roses of spring,
Our Gentle Lady liege, Queen of our hearts.

Llano Estacado

Lawrence Hall

Llano Estacado

Escarpments and grasses forever and ever
Alive beneath the grey forever-sky,
Creation tumbling ancient elements
Into horizons upon more horizons,
Deep silences, from when there were no worlds,
Seldom interrupted, even by the nations.
The dawn wind sings a circle of low stones
A palace long before Coyote came,
The evening wind sighs through a picture rock
A language that was old when the moon was new.
A little crucifix bought in a shop
Near a wharf in Spain, and blessed by a priest
In haste for breakfast after early Mass
Lies near a fragment of a horseman’s boot
Above an arrowhead knapped from traded flint
Below a broken blade from a pocket knife
And a doll’s head torn by a very bad boy
Along a railway that follows buffalo
Not far from the historical marker
Where a pizza box leans against a fence.
But here on the Llano Estacado
Escarpments and grasses forever and ever

A Full Moon over New Mexico

Mack Hall, HSG

A Full Moon over New Mexico

Part of the fascination with the San Antonio chain of missions (Nuestra Senora de la Purisma Concepcion de Acuna, San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, San Juan Capistrano, San Francisco de la Espada, and the very little that remains of San Antonio de Valero) is that they are old. Very few buildings or utilities in Texas are old or ever will be – our interstate highways are under constant repair, and the cinder-block and plywood construction now popular for public and private buildings is only slightly more durable than canvas. Texas is a land of campers who after seven changes of national governments (the United States twice) within only two centuries still marvel at anything that suggests permanence.

New Mexico features many more structures (I didn’t count ‘em) from the three-hundred-year Spanish era, but New Mexicans shouldn’t be smug about them since Texas was all the land east of the Rio Grande, all the way into Colorado. Some say that most of New Mexico and Colorado are still part of Texas. Most of New Mexico and Colorado say not. And that’s okay; Canada still can’t sort out the border between Quebec and Labrador.

An interesting feature of a city in New Mexico, a city which is Spanish in origin, is the plaza, an open area bounded by the parish church, shops, private houses, and whatever it is that Spain calls government house. This openness is important – you can see from one side of the plaza to the other. The space is open for social events, informal gatherings, elections, horse-trading, community meetings, liturgical processions, and mustering the local militia.

In the English part of the Americas there is the courthouse square, but the space is not open because the courthouse is in the middle of it, and you cannot see across. It is as if a courthouse square is not a place for people to meet as part of the social and political life of a city, but rather a place to be ruled from.

History, as Hilaire Belloc writes, is predicated on geography, and that would include architectural geography. On the east side of the Neches, an English town (let us call it Percivalville) places its church, businesses, and houses outside the square, and plops the courthouse in the middle. Across the river, a Spanish town (let us call it San Whatever) also features a church, government house, private houses, and businesses, but none of them is planted in the center of the plaza.


The plaza in Taos is still pretty much hometown, with a mix of dime stores, fine art galleries, junk art galleries, an elegant hotel, and a good chance of a parking spot except on weekends. There are a few shade trees and a bandstand, benches, a beautiful war memorial, and an big, ugly statue of a stunningly evil man, and why that is there eludes me. Often there are street vendors and bands, and the plaza is great fun.

The plaza in Santa Fe has been to finishing school and gives itself airs. The art galleries are Art-With-a-Capital-A, and the area is a little over-produced, close to Disney-fication. If Taos is where poor old hippies go to desiccate, Santa Fe is where rich old hippies go to desiccate. There is even a Santa Fe old-lady look, grey hair done up in a bun beneath Sergeant Garcia’s (cf Disney’s Zorro) flat-brimmed sombrero.

One of the really good things about Santa Fe’s Plaza is the art, especially the First Nations folks who sell jewelry, pottery, and fabrics from the porch of the Governor’s Palace. I don’t know if there is a city ordinance or if old Anglo dudes trying to peddle their derivative bling of suspect origins would be subject to some very old-fashioned rough justice, but you can’t go wrong in buying at the Governor’s Palace.

The new (1870) cathedral is up the street a block past many nice shops and neat little cafes, and the elegant French architecture and the newer but equally restrained Spanish reredos and Stations of the Cross work well together. The integrity of the small area before the beautiful bronze doors has recently been compromised by a lumpish statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who deserves much better. The artist has portrayed (undoubtedly “from the heart”) The Lily of the Mohawks as a Sumo wrestler daubed with automobile paint in primary colors. You might expect this sort of amateur mashup in Taos, but not in Santa Fe.

But simply being in the center of at least 600 years of history is its own joy, and there is much genuine art in the area, including an excellent bronze of Saint Francis with a wolf. Not a bunny, but a wolf. Now that’s the stuff, artistically and theologically!

Another difference between the plaza in Taos and the plaza in Santa Fe is the nature of parking a car. When a driver parks near the plaza in Santa Fe, everyone exits the car, opens a door or the boot, and bends over, as if they were having a prayer meeting with heads inside the car while presenting a display of full moons to the street and sidewalk. Upon returning to the car, the driver and passengers repeat this curious liturgy.

Perhaps they are Moonies.

But one should not make fun; this may be a quaint local custom. In 1941 Ansel Adams took a famous photograph of a full moon over Hernandez, and so perhaps people in Santa Fe try in some way to replicate this artistic experience through creative parking.

New Mexico is an ancient land of rare beauty, more cultural diversity than the United Nations, and a deep history of the comings and goings of peoples and their works and arts from perhaps the beginning of humankind. To visit New Mexico is not only a joy, it is an honor.


The Lonesome Dove Cooking Show

Mack Hall, HSG

Cooking with Gus and the Captain

Popular novels and Orwellian telescreen programs such as Downton Abbey and even The Hobbit have inspired recipe collections. Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove has not yet led someone to write a goin’-to-Montana cookbook despite the popularity of the novel, the series, and then the spinoffs, including Return to Lonesome Dove, Andy Hardy Finds Love in Lonesome Dove, and Attack of the Zombies from Lonesome Dove.

And the reason is obvious: even the most indiscriminant gourmand might have trouble coughing up (as it were) a recipe for grasshopper or dog.

Much of the diet mentioned in Lonesome Dove sounds pretty good, especially Gus’ famous Dutch oven biscuits.

The book is strangely silent on why there is no Belgian oven, though.

Other comestibles enjoyed by Gus, the Captain, Indians, cowpokes, gamblers, Mexicans, Texicans, fur traders, mountain men, boatmen, bartenders, and, oh, entertainers include numerous dishes made from:

Prairie chicken

The favorite beverages, in order, appear to be:


Pretty good eats, huh?

But when the individuals lost on the Great Plains on the trail from Texas to Montana are doing without, they dine on:


Pardon me, waiter, but could we please see the children’s menu?

With Blue Duck and his pals, the concept of children’s menu might mean something entirely different.

As Bull (Arthur Hunnicutt) says to Cole Thornton (John Wayne) in El Dorado, “This place’ll never be Delmonico’s.” Nope, not with grasshoppers and dog on the bill of fare.

No mention of eating a dove, though, either a gregarious dove or a lonesome dove.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Votive Candles

Lawrence Hall


Votive Candles


For Abbie and ‘Zander


They haven’t been penny candles for ever so long

Because there aren’t any pennies anymore

Everyone simply calls them votives now

Those old-church, wax-stained banks of little flames

In silence flickering in the shadows grey

There launching, limning prayers into the world

Small acts of firm defiance against the night -

And you are votives too, small gifts of light

Incarnate prayers aglow within the hearts

Of those forever blessed in knowing you.

Stopping by Commas on a Snowy Evening

Mack Hall, HSG

6 July 2014


Stopping by Commas on a Snowy Evening


An acquaintance, disagreeing with some fashionable and muddy deconstruction in a newspaper article, defended the obvious in Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  She was exactly right to do so.


Mr. Frost wrote this perfect little poem in 1922, and for the rest of his long life people told him what he really meant by it.  His insistence that the poem was about stopping by woods on a snowy evening and nothing more was taken as a wink-wink, nudge-nudge prevarication, as if it were unthinkable that anyone should ever speak plainly about anything.


One very common – and very wrong - interpretation is that the poem is about suicide.  This allegation is based on a line in the last stanza: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.”  The woods are said to be symbolic of death, and the last line (“But I have promises to keep…”) are the speaker’s repudiation of the temptation to suicide. 


This spurious argument is built on the flimsiest of foundations, a comma that doesn’t even exist.  The claim is that because there is no Oxford comma – the comma preceding “and” – in “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” then it follows that the woods are lovely because they are dark and deep, reflecting a desire for death.


Blaming something on a comma that isn’t there is too, too thin, but it sells articles to journals and newspapers, rather like the recycled twaddle that Shakespeare wasn’t really Shakespeare.


Commas can indicate a separation of thoughts, a pause for breath, or a pause in speaking.  Fowler’s Modern English Usage (Oxford, 1952) gives four columns of small print to the comma, and after reading all that the reader still isn’t sure what a comma is for. 


But let us narrow our search to the topic at hand, a line of Frost, and consider the comma as used in series.  We say that the colors of our flag are red, white, and blue.  The commas separate each item in order to give them equal weight:








However, Mr. Frost says that his friend’s woods are “lovely, dark and deep,” a series of three items with only one comma.  Thus the argument that these are not three discrete (spelled “discrete,” meaning separate, not “discreet,” meaning subtle) things, but rather one thing (“lovely”) as proven by “dark and deep.”


The problem is the absence of the Oxford comma (I don’t know how a comma or a shoe can be Oxonian), which as a fashion comes and goes.  One generation holds as an article of faith that the colors of our flag should be written as “red, white, and blue,” and the next generation is ready to take to the barricades in defense of “red, white and blue” sans Oxford comma.


Robert Frost wrote “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” with only one comma because omitting the Oxford comma was the usual punctuation of his time.  There is no hidden meaning in this.


The defense of this questionable usage is that when items are listed in a series the reader already knows that there are items, that they are different items, and that they are in a series.


This argument fails, in Mr. Frost’s time or in ours, because if any comma is unnecessary in a series because of an omniscient reader, then why should the series be cluttered with commas at all?  Thus, according to the No Oxford Comma crowd, if we make a list of children who are, for instance, taking a Sunday school trip, we can safely and accurately list them as “Mandy Taylor Brooke Kelly John Conrad McKenzie Sebastian Madison,” and so on.


The confusion is obvious: Are Mandy and Taylor two different children, or is Mandy Taylor one child and Brooke Kelly another?


If we write of our flag that the colors are red, white and blue, do we then say that there are only two categories, one of them red and the other a portmanteau of white and blue?


The Oxford comma is useful for clarifying items in series.  Mr. Frost, however, did not employ it.  The lapse is hardly a fault, but it does give the sort of people who are always telling others what they really mean an excuse for deconstructing (that is, botching it) a given line that, even with a comma missing, is perfectly clear.


“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is what its author said it is, and it is a snowflake-brilliant poem of great artistry crafted in iambic tetrameter, clear monosyllables, and a connect-everything rhyme scheme of AABA-BBCB-CCDC-DDDD.


Read it, and live.



Sitting on the Porch with Zombies and Robert Duvall

Mack Hall, HSG

10 July 2014


Sitting on the Porch with Zombies and Robert Duvall


Thoughts on a summer day, short thoughts, because sometimes it’s just too hot to think much:


Taking a water pill with water – ironic, eh?


Every evening someone on the local television news says “Next, the weather, but first...”  This means that the weather report comes after a series of commercials and some fluffy bit of filler that is neither useful nor amusing.  The weather is not next at all, so why does someone say it is?  If the speaker is unreliable in that small matter, perhaps he is also unreliable in his news reports.


And speaking of television weather reports – all of you who remember “weather girls,” wave your Medicare cards (if your arthritis permits).


Does Really Big Oil Company know who holds the franchises on their gas stations in the American west?  When you walk into one there’s a Star Wars Creature Cantina©® moment and a sudden silence as you find yourself being glared at suspiciously by some fellows who appear to know where the bodies are buried.  Even so, they seem merry and hospitable when compared to an Air Canada cabin crew.


Benjamin Franklin is said to have said that beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy.  I’d say iced tea.  And dachshund puppies.


Kirbyville’s Dick Martin, of happy memory, said that beer should be poured back into the horse it came out of.


Why don’t state and federal governments hassle Big Internet for their obscure, sticky contracts?  Perhaps it’s because government functionaries have unlimited ‘net access on the job and sometimes as a take-home perk, paid for by the taxpayers, and so don’t care.  “Let the people eat data.”


“Epic fail” is by now an epic fail.  So are “Keep Calm and______” and “Got ______?”  Stop it.  Stop it now. 


Yep, that manly man on the Orwellian telescreen is still peddling gold while riding his horse and flying his airplane and hangin’ out in his manly study.  His argument is that you should give him your worthless dollars in exchange for his valuable gold.  But if his gold is so valuable and your dollars so worthless, why does he propose an exchange?


“Actually” is actually the most overused adverb at present, and, actually, one of the most pointless, actually.  Actually, can anything be unactually said or unactually experienced?  We say “actually” so often now that actually we risk becoming English, actually.  Then we’d follow soccer / futbol.  Shudder.  Actually.


Cats are useful because they keep mice and rats from eating the environmentally-correct but tasty wiring in new cars.  Beyond that, they are sort of like decorative sofa pillows that bite.


Whatever happened to Technicolor©®?  Modern movies are filmed in grim, dull halftones that portray even a forest scene with all the joy of an abandoned Soviet cement factory on an overcast day in February.  Real, silvery, old-film-school black-and-white is great, as is real color, but this current fashion in dulled images will date as badly as hand-held shots and quick-zooms from the 1960s.


Robert Duvall makes any movie a good movie, despite the mischief of producers, directors, and writers.  He has made himself the best cowboy star of the last thirty years, and while the future of any work of art is difficult to predict, I’ll bet a round of drinks down at the Long Branch Saloon that his films, like those of John Wayne, will be watched, studied, and enjoyed for generations to come.  So there, computerized zombie planet of the hamsters scum.


Okay, that’s enough thinking for one day.  Time for sitting on the porch with a  glass of tea.