Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Now There Are Four - Poem

Lawrence Hall

Now There Are Four

For Violet Maria Petty

Born on the Commemoration of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, 2015

The sweetest gift under the Christmas tree -
Saint Thomas now bless you, dear fourth little V!

Bonfire Deferred - Poem

Lawrence Hall

Bonfire Deferred

If there is no Christmas bonfire this year
And Epiphany drifts into January
Lit only by the silent dance of stars
Serving in the office of votive lights
In peaceful solitude while through the trees
Coyote sings for his elusive supper
We’ll plan the children’s bonfire for next year
Sparklers and firecrackers and merry laughter
Built from the happy glow of memories
If there is no Christmas bonfire this year

Contra Julius and Gregory - Poem

Lawrence Hall

Contra Julius and Gregory

A year does not fail, because there are no years
There are only seasons dancing through being
The choreography of Creation
Written with meteors dreamed out of stars
And so the first day of January
Is the thirty-second of December
And neither is either or even itself
But only a mark that says left foot forward
Continuing a step from beyond forever -
The year does not fail, because there are no years

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Why We Love James Bond - Poem

Lawrence Hall

Why We Love James Bond

He drives too fast, he drinks, he bets,
He smokes too many cigarettes!

Peter's Pence - Poem

Lawrence Hall

Peter’s Pence

After Belloc, The Path to Rome

What capital did Saint Peter possess?
A pair of shoes, perhaps, a coat, a stick
A bitter memory of a dead-cold night
And happier memories of sails and ships
Of sunrise over the sea, and fish-heavy nets
And not so many words to burden a man
But only the Word - the Word and then the Cup
And a Chair which he found uncomfortable
His final inventory was written in red
What capital did Saint Peter possess?

Bread of the Presence - Poem

Lawrence Hall

Bread of the Presence

For Victoria,
In thanks for a gift of challah

For the people of the Word, and of bread:
Manna and matzo are the breads of flight
Of exile and wandering, Passover,
Diaspora, the Pale of Settlement,
And always “next year in Jerusalem…”
But challah is the bread of victory
A double portion of the kindness of G-d
The Temple built again in every home
Where the kitchen table is the Altar
And the blessing begins “Baruch atah…”

We Are One Debris - Poem

Lawrence Hall

We Are One Debris

A paper napkin with a turkey on it
Discarded outside by an errant child
Culturally appropriates among the leaves
It seems to want to join its fallen brothers
Raw and natural in their native state
In multicultural deconstructions
Like, you know, all spiritual and stuff
Becoming one existential leaf-mold
Filtered through November’s hipster glasses
A paper napkin with a turkey on it

Welding and Philosophy

Lawrence Hall Hall, HSG

Welding and Philosophy

Recently a candidate for public office stated that America needs fewer philosophers and more welders.

Someone countered this allegation, and then someone else counter-countered, and then I turned the page and read the funnies.

One concludes that those promoting this artificial quarrel are neither welders nor philosophers, for while not all philosophers are welders, all welders are philosophers.

“Philosophy” (I’m told the word is Greek; I don’t know any Greek beyond “Kyrie Eleison.”) means, quite simply, love of wisdom. By extension, philosophy applies to rational thought.

Roget’s International Thesaurus, 3rd Edition, 1962 lists 68 elementary metals, 101 alloy metals, and eight leaf metals. This fifty-year-old book, an ordinary desk reference for any reader, mentions 177 different metals. A welder would respond with “Only 177? What a quaint old book. This must be for children, for there are many more metals than that.” The welder knows this because he is a philosopher, a lover of wisdom.

Welding is the science of applied metallurgy. A welder accomplishes a lifetime of study and a whole lot of rational thinking in order to cut, bend, blend, and shape those 177+ metals or any combination thereof in the ways he (or she) wants. The welder does not cut, bend, blend, or shape those metals without a plan. He cannot plan to cut, bend, blend, or shape metals without a deep knowledge of metallurgy, electricity, chemistry, physics, geometry, gasses, health, safety, and goodness knows what else. A welder might cut, bend, blend, and shape metals on a high building on a high mountain, where the changing air means he must adjust his chemistry, or far beneath the waves, where he must adjust his chemistry, know all about deep-water diving, and watch out for sharks.

A welder must also ask himself if he may with good conscience cut, bend, blend, and shape metals for specific purposes. If he is part of a team maintaining an oil field his conscience is clear, for despite the facile opinions – hardly rational thoughts - of the shallow-minded, drilling for oil is a very good thing. Without oil we don’t exist. If, however, a welder is asked to help construct a gallows, a bomb, a warship, or some other engine for the destruction of his fellow humans he will want to search his soul in the matter. Sergeant Kalashnikov may have developed his rifle with only the safety of the Soviet state in mind, but in the end neither he nor the Soviet State could control his invention, which has since been used against the Soviet State, its successor state, and lots of other folks.

To infer, then, that a welder is not a philosopher is a failure in philosophy, a failure to think, a failure to love wisdom. One might as well (or unwell) say that a woman cannot be a mother because she is also a daughter and a doctor, that a pilot cannot also be a cowboy and a merchant, or that Saint Paul could not be an Apostle because he was also a tentmaker and a Roman citizen. All humans, as Plato is said to have said (I’ll ask him the next time I see him), by nature want to know things. Knowledge does not come packaged in discrete categories. Thus, a farmer is by nature a biologist, chemist, geologist, and lots of other things, and to put all this knowledge together, that is, to synthesize it, he must also be a philosopher. Dreams and wishes and hopes and ideologies do not make the corn grow.

A politician who makes a public statement suggesting that philosophers and welders are discrete categories of being is either not thinking or is thinking malevolently. Perhaps the politician does not want philosophers – that is, ordinary thinkers – because they might examine his finances, his writings and speeches, his ideologies, and his actions with and against others, and determine for themselves whether or not he is worthy to represent them.

Roman legend speaks of Cincinnatus, a farmer and a wise man (for they are the same thing), who was plowing his field when a deputation of citizens came to ask him to lead Rome and save the City from invaders and from its factions. So Cincinnatus left his plow, took his cloak from the fence post where he had laid it, and went to rule Rome for a year. When the year was over, and Rome was saved, Cincinnatus returned to his farm, flung his old cloak over the same fence post, and continued his plowing.

That’s the stuff – not a philosopher-king, but a philosopher-worker.

Tyrannies cannot exist if there are philosophers; republics cannot exist without them.


When Walls Suffer a Mussolini-as-a-Hippie Complex

Lawrence Hall, HSG

When Walls Suffer a Mussolini Complex

Can you remember the last time you visited someone’s house and it didn’t have all those hippie commandments posted all over the walls? You know, those pretend-antique signs telling you to do stuff, like “DANCE AS IF NO ONE IS LOOKING.”

The logical rejoinder would be “Why the (Newark) should I?” but then you’d be talking back to a sign.

And then there is “EAT. LOVE. PRAY.”

Really, does anyone need a made-in-China sign tacked to the wall in order to remember to eat? One longs to see a sign that says “STARVE. HATE. INDULGE IN VAGUE, FUZZY THOUGHTS.”

People’s walls are beginning to look like jail reception areas, or maybe a cosmic boot camp, only with crystals and some groovy Peter, Paul, and Mary sounds instead of “NO SMOKING,” “REMAIN SEATED,” “NO TALKING,” and “STAND ON THE YELLOW FOOTPRINTS.”

Here’s another Miz Bossy Beatnik life instruction: “LIFE ISN’T ABOUT WAITING FOR THE STORM TO PASS. IT’S ABOUT LEARNING TO DANCE IN THE RAIN.” Well, just as you wish, but if you dance in the rain around here you’re likely to get struck by lightning.

“LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED.” Oh, I dunno, something to eat, clothes, shelter – these are needful too

“DO NOT FOLLOW WHERE THE PATH MAY LEAD. GO INSTEAD WHERE THERE IS NO PATH AND LEAVE A TRAIL.” The problem here is that the National Park Service posts their own signs telling you not to do any such thing.

“FOLLOW YOUR HEART.” Aw, now, couldn’t you follow your pancreas instead?

‘THINK DEEPLY, SPEAK GENTLY, LOVE MUCH, LAUGH A LOT, WORK HARD, GIVE FREELY, AND BE KIND.” Wait, wait, don’t tell me – that’s from the Bible. Or Shakespeare. Or NCIS.

“BREATHE BELIEVE EMBRACE SHARE SMILE LOVE LIVE LAUGH CREATE TRUST CARE BREATHE CARE SING.” Yes, I believe those sentiments come from the Internal Revenue Service. Or maybe that was a comforting little something Sergeant Schneider sang as a lullaby to us lads at Camp Pendleton.

Even Christmas candies now tell us what to do. The foil wrapper around a chocolate ordered me to “HIT SNOOZE X 5.” The sequel to that would be my boss advising me that my services are no longer required.

Another wrapper instructed me to “GET LOST ON PURPOSE.” Happily, I’m not a truck driver.

And another: “BECAUSE YOU CAN.” Because you can what? Is there a cause that goes with that because? Is there a moral or ethical sanction functioning here?

Only one bossy sign would sound just right: “TAKE DOWN THE BOSSY SIGNS TELLING PEOPLE WHAT TO DO.”

Let us return to decorating our walls with lovely pictures instead of with edicts. Something classy, like dogs playing poker.


Santa Claus Hijacks a Helicopter

Lawrence Hall, HSG

Santa Claus Being Bad

Santa Claus began Advent by hijacking a helicopter in Brazil.

A man dressed as the larcenous old elf hired a helicopter at a Sao Paulo airfield for a flight. Santa then forced the pilot to set the aircraft down in a rural area where he and that girl from Ipanema tied up the pilot, abandoned him, and flew away singing “And to all a good night!”

Suspicion immediately fell upon the USA’s jolly Secret Service, those merry pranksters loaded with booze and automatic weapons. If an undocumented helicopter appears in the presidential fleet, questions might be asked in Whoopsie’s Adult Night Club just off K Street in the Magic Kingdom of D.C.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump immediately blew to the occasion: “We’ve, got, y’see, these mobs of alien Santa Clauses flying over our borders and no one but I can stop ‘em.”

President-Elect Hillary Clinton denied receiving any campaign contributions from Santa Claus.

The president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to shoot down the helicopter if it violated Turkish air space, Turkish air space being whatever Mr. Erdogan says it is.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia took off his shirt and punched out a shopping mall Santa in St. Petersburg.

Students at the University of Missouri demanded that reporters stop talking about Santa Claus pinching a helicopter since this takes attention away from them and their specialness.

The Dalai Lama said “Let us be one with the crystals of helicopterness so that the healing sands of peace and harmony may sift through the holistic sunrise of the optimal oversoul and actuate the full potential of my 501C.”

The United Nations voted a resolution blaming the helicopter theft on global warming, and sent Americans workers the bill.

Fox News demanded boots on the ground for nation-building at the North Pole. Fox News says boots on the ground because boots on the ground sounds ever so much nicer than saying young Americans are to be killed in yet another undeclared war.

Local television outlets all over the world labeled the helicopter hijacking iconic because the FCC requires them to use the term several times during every broadcast. They don’t know what it means; they just say it.

In response to the Santa helicopter threat, West Point armed all its cadets with semi-secret M24 Flying Pillows of Death.

Westboro (who don’t know how to spell “borough”) Not-Really-Baptist Church blamed Starbuck’s.

China declared the helicopter to be sovereign Chinese territory.

In the Hallmark Christmas movie version the helicopter hijacker is a newly-widowed father and stockbroker named Ridge whose adorable little daughter Chloe-Zoe is conflicted about why Santa Claus allowed her mother to die. Ridge didn’t really hijack a helicopter; he only rented it to make some plot-gap point to Chloe-Zoe. The helicopter pilot is Brooke, a spunky, independent, thirty-something single woman who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Ridge and Brooke meet-cute and then they hear jingle bells and fall in love and get married while snowflakes fall and Chloe-Zoe gives a thumbs-up to the generic central-casting clergyman whom she knows to be Santa Claus in disguise.

Santa Claus stealing a helicopter - that makes no more sense than people beating up each other for discount vegetable steamers for Christmas.


Christmas - It's All About Stealing Other People's Exploding Stuff

Lawrence Hall

Christmas – It’s All About Stealing Other People’s Exploding Stuff

Most people, the sort who have jobs and lives, first learned of the existence of they-don’t-really-hover-boards through news reports of house fires and robberies.

They-don’t-really-hover-boards are battery-powered toys upon which the operator stands while the gadget wheels him or her about until its batteries perish. Then the operator charges the batteries until they explode and set fire to everything around them. They’re sort of like a certain American-made electric car, only with two wheels instead of four.

They-don’t-really-hover-boards are expensive, flimsy, prone to self-arson, and useless. Naturally they are very desirable to those for whom Star Wars is their religion and Che Guevera is their prophet.

Doubtless there are deputations of the cartoon-tee-shirted appealing to city councils everywhere to commit millions of tax dollars to build they-don’t-really-hover-board parks so that, following the success of midnight basketball, the Republic might be saved from cultural and moral decay.

The theft of they-don’t-really-hover-boards has become as common as fist-fights in the Ukrainian parliament. In Wisconsin a man (so to speak) put a gun to a seven-year-old girl’s head in order to rob her of her it-doesn’t-really-hover-board. Thus the poor girl was endangered twice, first by a lemming parent who gave her an explosive device and then by a worm with a firearm.

There’s nothing that says “man” like stealing a toy from a child at gunpoint.

When that he-man takes the stolen it-doesn’t-really-hover-board to his room and its batteries start a fire that destroys all his Will Ferrell posters, will he sue the kid for microaggression?

Donald Trump will promise to stop all they-don’t-really-hover-boards at the borders, Marco Rubio will ask for the child’s credit card number, Bernie Sanders will demand free they-don’t-really-hover-boards for all the unemployed, Hillary Clinton will deny taking illegal campaign contributions from the little girl, Ted Cruz will blame Canada, Sinead O’Connor will blame the Pope, the President will blame the renegade culture of assault batteries, Moustache Guy on Fox News will blame public schools, Turkey will blame Russia, and Vladimir Putin will rip off his shirt and take down a Toys ‘R’ Us with one punch, maybe two.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?


Prince Albert's Christmas

Lawrence Hall

Prince Albert’s Christmas

Even the best prepared among us cannot anticipate everything contingency, and so everyone finds himself (the pronoun is gender-neutral) in a series of traffic jams and shopping lines just before Christmas, feeling that perhaps Scrooge was right.

Advent, after all, is intended to be a season of quiet reflection, not a descent into the serial cruelties of a Secret Santa gift exchange. Cue Scrooge stealing Tiny Tim’s crutch.

And then there is the annual cycle of What Christmas is Really All About selfies on the telescreen, as if that topic weren’t covered far more accurately in the Gospels.

One cannot get through Advent without being told yet again that the happy little nonsense song about the twelve days of Christmas is a secret Catholic catechism. Sure, and each candy cane is poisoned by cackling vampire Jesuit Templar Masonic spies who are guardians of Jesus’ earthly DNA which they have concealed for centuries in a mysterious glowing brussels sprout buried in a Prince Albert can behind a convenience store directly across from Oak Island in Nova Scotia in a direct solar-lunar-astral line with Jerusalem which must be true because it was on tellyvision.

Heaven knows what dark mysteries silly men who ought to know better might find in “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Since your ‘umble scrivener has not been vouchsafed any new revelations about Christmas, he submits instead a few family-friendly, non-Scrooge, no-shopping-required wheezes suitable for Twelfth-Night merriment around a merry bonfire:

Small boy to store clerk: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Clerk: “Why, yes, son, we do.”
Small boy: “Then you’d better let him out before he suffocates!”

Small boy to store clerk: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Clerk: “Why, no, son, we don’t.”
Small boy: “Uhhh…”

Small boy to store clerk: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Clerk: “Prince Albert is, like, you know, so yesterday. However, we do have a festive selection of cigars rolled from Cuban-seed tobacco by barefoot maidens who breathe clean mountain air and think pure thoughts. Now this cigar, the Hoya de Bulgaria, is a bargain at only $25 plus applicable taxes.”
Small boy: “I sure miss Prince Albert.”

Small boy to store clerk: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Clerk: “Yes, and he needs to get out; people are waiting in line.”
Small boy: “Uhhh…”

Small boy making a prank call: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Receptionist: “You dialed the wrong number; this is the No Puffin hotline.”
Small boy: “Uhhh…”

Small boy to store clerk: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Clerk: “A can of what?”
Small boy: “Uhhh…”

Small boy to store clerk: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Clerk: “I say, young chap, this is England. You should ask if we have Prince Albert in a tin.”
Small boy: “Uhhh…”

Small boy to store clerk: “Mister, do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
Clerk: “This is Newfoundland, lad. You should ask if we have Prince Albert in a tin, eh.”
Small boy: “Eh?”

Whenever we hear a good joke, a real groaner, we think of those who would enjoy it. But sometimes we realize that a dear friend is no longer with us. This is as true during Advent or Christmas as any other time as we remember with sadness someone who was at the Christmas Eve liturgy last year is not here this year. And so the joke remains unsaid, or perhaps sent only in silence, as the candles are lit in the darkness. The universe is said to have no limits at all, so merry laughter too must a part of the eternal merry Christmas.