Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thick and Thin Malarial Smears - poem

Lawrence Hall

Thick and Thin Malarial Smears

An eye, a brain, a journey deep down a lens
Examining the secrets of the blood
Parasitic protozoans frozen in place
Artistic smudgings streaked across glass slides

Anopheles has wrought her evil work
Plasmodium slithers across the field
Unknown to the shivering nineteen-year-old
Who writhes in his government-issue cot

In the agonized mysteries of the dark
While rain, hot rain, rattles the freezing tent

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Disaster Preparedness Checklist - poem

Lawrence Hall

Disaster Preparedness Checklist

Double-A batteries, a map out of town
A tank full of gas, a mind full of plans
A flashlight, toilet paper, a radio
A can opener and cans to go, go, go

Leather gloves and duct tape, whistles
Waterproof matches, and match-proof water
Blankies and ponchos and a change of clothes
A medical kit and a pocket knife


No one ever lists a box of cigars,
And a Wodehouse for reading by lamplight

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Man Could Stand Up - column, 8.28.16

Lawrence Hall

A Man Could Stand Up

“A man could stand up.”
-Ford Madox Ford

Long ago and far away there was an isolated little island named Ioto. There were about a thousand residents, one primary school, one house of worship, and one police officer. The islanders lived by fishing, farming, and sulphur mining. A government mail boat visited once a month, and a freighter less often. The children probably complained that nothing ever happened on Ioto, and the adults were probably happy that this was so.

Things change.

In English the island is known as Iwo Jima.

The story of the battle in early 1945 is well-known, but lately there has been some unnecessary controversy about the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi: just who raised the flag?

At least two flags were raised over Iwo Jima at different times on the fourth day of the battle, 23 February, and several pictures were taken on both occasions, with different Marines and Navy Corpsmen in the frame. The most famous picture was a hasty, unposed grab shot by civilian AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. All of this was under fire. For the first time in 4,000 years a Japanese Home Island had been invaded, and the Japanese defense was fierce. No one had the leisure to take names as if the event were a class photograph, and most of the young men in the pictures were later killed in the battle, which continued for another month.

Less than a year before, in June of 1944, some of those young Marines and Navy Corpsmen had indeed posed for pictures, their high school graduation pictures, and the contract photographer with his Speed Graphic made sure he got the names right: “Haines…now is that spelled H-a-y-n-e-s or H-a-i-n-e-s or H-a-n-e-s…?”

Within a year those same young men as Marines atop Mount Suribachi were surrounded by angry, frightened Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen defending their island, and the Japanese were not taking names.

On the sea, ships of the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy (not often mentioned because American admirals, like French admirals, did not approve of the British, sometimes to the extent of forgetting who the real enemy was) shelled Japanese positions. Navy ground support aircraft made run after run. Most of the combatants on Iwo Jima were Marines, but there were also Navy Corpsmen, underwater demotion teams, chaplains, and Seabees, and Army airmen struggling to establish an air field, all of them constantly under fire, many of them killed, more of them wounded. Some of the landing craft never made the beach; they were destroyed by Japanese artillery, and their Navy crews and their Marines were killed without ever reaching the volcanic sand.

So who raised the flags over Iwo Jima?

We will probably never know the names of each man in the several pictures; the violence and confusion were that bad, and almost all those who survived 1945 have since been taken from us to join their comrades on another shore.

There should be no arguments in the matter of the flags, only quiet reflection. There should also be some kind remembrances for the Japanese defenders who, after all, were mostly teenaged conscripts misled by a bad government. That sort of thing has happened in many nations.

In a sense, every Marine on Iwo Jima, and every Navy Corpsman, Seabee, UDT, and Army Air Force soldier with the Marines, raised that flag, and in spirit the flag over Iwo Jima is still raised every day by every Marine and every Corpsman serving with the Marines.

“Eternal rest grant onto them, O Lord, and make perpetual Light to shine upon them.”


Friday, August 26, 2016

Examining Room - poem

Lawrence Hall

Examining Room

“The nurse will be with you presently, sir.”
And you are left alone in a fluorescent cube
A little desk, a screen, two plastic chairs,
A tray of quaint and curious1 instruments

And here all earthly vanities are shed
Presumptions and assumptions are laid flat
Upon a roll-sheet bed where no one dreams,
Where auguries are gently divined out

The comfort-book remains unread, time stalls -
“The nurse will be with you presently, sir.”

1Poe, of course

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Roganville! Roganville! Don't Forget Your Shoes and Grapes!" - poem

Lawrence Hall

The conductor calls out:

“Roganville! Roganville! Don’t Forget Your Shoes and Grapes!”

The Doodle Bug rattles on the Santa Fe
Through cut-over woods and hot sunset fields
From Kirbyille, where they have a traffic light
And a picture show, and they don’t milk cows

Oh, don’t forget your shoes and sack of grapes
A brand-new shirt from Mixson’s store, for church
The memory of a soda at City Drug
And city kids, who wear shoes all the time

I’m going to live in the city someday

But for now

The Doodle-Bug rattles on the Santa Fe

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Church Ladies and Chariots - column, 21 August 2016

Mack Hall, HSG

Church Ladies and Chariots

“School is just around the corner.” No it’s not; it’s a few miles down the road. Simply follow the big yellow bus on which the wheels go ‘round and ‘round, and be a grownup about the amber and red lights. Certain functionaries in the democratically-elected government of the State of Texas regard children as but medical waste, but we know better. Children are precious. Even when they’re making faces at you from the back window.

+ + +

Why do internet service providers and computer manufacturers seem to be universally dishonest? My latest famous-name-brand disposable computer and its shadowy operatives in Shanghai keep sending me exclamation-mark notices about important software updates which usually turn out to be camouflaged games. Settings / apps / uninstall.

+ + +

The International Olympic Committee is a shadowy organization composed of sinister, secretive, and powerful men operating from inconspicuous bases in Europe – perhaps the I.O.C. is really T.H.R.U.S.H. from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

+ + +

Remember when Bill and Hillary were the cool kids?

+ + +

The InterGossip reports that the latest version of Ben-Hur is not doing well at the cinemas. There is much discussion about possible inadequacies in plot, casting, or direction, but few consider two other possible explanations: cartooning and color.

In the previous movie adaptations of General Wallace’s novel crowd scenes really were crowd scenes. Thousands of folks were employed to fill the stadium at Cinecitta Studios in Rome in 1959 for the chariot race. Now, with electronic cartooning, the producers need only hire a few dozen extras and then manipulate the images into unreal thousands. There is nothing ethically or artistically wrong in this, but it just doesn’t feel right. One almost expects Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck to appear in the next chariot, with Elmer Fudd as the Emperor of Rome intoning “Wet the Wames Bewin.” Cartooning is perfect for Frozen, but wrong for live-action.

The Mediterranean world is reported by reliable sources to be in color. Modern movie-makers, however, seem to want to persuade viewers that Creation is mostly sepia-toned, with little sparkle to relieve the gloom. The previews of the new ‘n’ improved Ben-Hur indicate a continuance of this drab fashion. There are two artistic choices in imaging – sharp, crisp black-and-white is one. The other is color, glorious color, color flung energetically onto the screen, color that stands up and yells “Here I am!” and not the doughy, pasty pseudo-color that looks like a palette of date-expired buttermilk.

+ + +

On Sunday the beginning of the liturgy at Notre Dame de LaSalette was paused for about thirty seconds while the in-training Nonna / Abuela / Babushka / Oma / Meme’ / Church Lady adjusted the hoods of the habits – the albs, not the behaviors – of the young altar servers. God gives us church ladies because if some things were left to men they simply wouldn’t get done, and Sunday observances would collapse in an existentially bleak wilderness of askew hoods and flowerless altars. In the hierarchy a church lady is superior to a priest (just ask the church lady) but inferior to a bishop, and more knowledgeable than either about how matters of faith and practice ought to be accomplished.

In a world of uncertainties how thankful we should be for the constancy of church ladies and young people who volunteer to serve, and for the freedom of all of us to attend divine services without being shot for doing so.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016

Death of a Country Gentlemouse - poem

Lawrence Hall

Death of a Country Gentlemouse

In a golden cloak and a white waistcoat
Reposes an elegant little field mouse
Neatly laid out for the visitation
Attended not by aunts now, but by ants

Luna-Dog, separated from her kill
Poses prayerfully at the back-door screen
Or predatorily, as it might be, before
With work-gloved hands the mouse is bade farewell

Tossed respectfully over the garden fence
In a golden cloak and a white waistcoat

Sunday, August 14, 2016

She Loves You, Cough, Cough, Cough - column, 8.14.2016

Mack Hall, HSG

She Loves You, Cough, Cough, Cough

A Hard Day’s Night was on Channel Siberia last week, and its charming innocence plays better now than it did in 1964. The plot, as in any musical, is but a weak thread for holding the songs together, and the Beatles could neither sing nor act, which, like an amateur musical in the parish hall, is part of the fun – all this was before they began taking themselves seriously.

The surprising strength of A Hard Day’s Night is its cinematography. The producers apparently could not afford color film, and so employed the then-unfashionable but excellent black-and-white stock which produced – and has maintained for over fifty years – crisp, clean, bright images which hit all the registers of light and dark. Except for the high-end technologies such as Technicolor, color film from the 1960s has since deteriorated, one might almost say soured, into fuzzy garish tones on the yellow end of the spectrum.

Many of the sequences are set outdoors, free of sets and CGI, and show post-war London, poor but tidy, with the ruins of bombed-out blocks still visible. The trains, busses, and taxis on screen were real, and are gone now, so the movie is a period piece about an era when people took the train to work and even the poorest man managed a much-cleaned and much-patched coat and tie for public wear instead of the current serf-livery of knee-pants and cartoon tees and plastic ball caps.

Most of the g-rated film is good-natured buffoonery, but the middle of the film changes mood for about fifteen quiet minutes of reflection as Ringo skips a rehearsal in order to take a solitary stroll along the streets and alongside a canal with his Pentax. He encounters all sort of people simply being themselves at work and play. There is little dialogue, and many of the images, as stills, would be works of art in themselves.

Because of the accidents of a low budget, monochrome, good humor, respect for the audience, a lack of artistic pretension, and an unselfconscious amateurishness in most of those in the picture, A Hard Day’s Night still has a youthful spring in its metaphorical step.

And let The People say “iconic.”

One of the recurring sub-themes in the film is the matter our lads fleeing hordes of screaming teenyboppers in beehive hairdos, reflecting the reality of the Beatles’ popularity in the 1960s. In contrast, there is a recent narrative of one of the surviving Beatles arriving at a post-awards show party for 2016’s cooler-than-cool, only to be turned away. Either no one knew who he was, or didn’t care.

1964’s A-list is still welcome at Luby’s Cafeteria.

And let The People sing “Yesterday.”


The Weather Channel - poem

Lawrence Hall

The Weather Channel

Turn around don’t drown we’re not out of the
woods yet don’t let your guard down this isn’t
over yet actually historic in
credible absolutely turn around

don’t drown we’re not out of the woods yet don’t
let your guard down this isn’t over yet
actually historic incredible
absolutely turn around don’t drown we’re

not out of the woods yet don’t let your guard
down this isn’t over yet actually

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Turkey with Stuffing - poem

Lawrence Hall

Turkey with Stuffing

Get stuff get stuff everybody get stuff
More stuff more stuff never can get enough
If you haven’t got stuff that’s just too tough
Get stuff, get stuff; you’re defined by your stuff

Friday, August 12, 2016

Kirbyville - The Santa Fe Depot - poem

Lawrence Hall

Kirbyville - The Santa Fe Depot

I loved to sit and watch the trains go by
As they blew smoke and steam into the sky

Or sometimes paused beneath the water tower
And sat there on the siding for an hour

The crew in overalls to the café
Hamburgers and coffee most every day

They swaggered back along our old Main Street
Important working men with schedules to meet

The whistle blew, the steam escaped, the train
Breathed heavily, and lurched and clanked to gain

Escape from our small town, then down the line
A tunnel through forests of oak and pine –

In dreams of boyhood, through memory’s eye
I love to sit and watch the trains go by

Mimosa Pods - poem

Lawrence Hall

Mimosa Pods

Mimosa pods hang heavily in the heat
Like lurking green and yellow slithery snakes
Just waiting for their hour to drop to the ground
Between the lemon and the apple trees

All is quiet in the early afternoon
Even the dragonflies repose at rest
After lunching on their kindred species
And the mocking bird has sought leafy shade

The hours drowse until September, and
Mimosa pods hang heavily in the heat

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A January Tale - poem

Lawrence Hall

A January Tale

All pines are gothic in the winter woods
Cold pillars in a temple grim and cold
Their needles softly hissing in the wind
That shivers from the north and makes a boy cold

Do not be found among them after dark
Or else you will never be found at all
The dark is falling now, falling fast and cold
Which way is home – oh, run! The trees are cold!

Across the barbed-wire fence, torn trousers, run! -
All pines are gothic in the winter woods

Tyrannosaurus Texaco - poem

Lawrence Hall

Tyrannosaurus Texaco

A dinosaur that doesn’t know it’s dead
Still thinks it’s eating swamp grass fresh and green
But truly after all is done and said:
It must accept that it is gasoline!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Weaving a Tapestry of Designer Alligators - column, 8.7.16

Mack Hall, HSG

Weaving a Tapestry of Designer Alligators

Is there a rule requiring all book reviewers to employ the tired metaphor “weaves” (as in “The author weaves a tapestry of…”) in every essay?

+ + +

For the last forty years the Navy has been playing dolly-dress-up with sailors. One recent costume faux pas, the infamous “blueberry” camouflage work uniform, is being replaced with a more woodsy camouflage. Just why an Electrician’s Mate repairing wiring harness deep in an access passage in an aging destroyer should be required to dress in camouflage at all is a concept that has eluded the admirals. But the blueberry camouflage was precious.

The admirals will award each other more medals for all this.

One wonders if the admirals have redecorated the body bags.

+ + +

The British Olympics team have banned cleaners from their rooms after a number of thefts. Too bad no one stole those ugly “designer” shirts the British team wore in the opening ceremony.

+ + +

In Texas, killing an alligator is a felony punishable by jail time and / or a fine. However, a baby human killed before birth is regarded by the state as “medical waste.”

+ + +

Hillary and Donald bikini mud wrestling.

In a malarial swamp.

With those protected alligators.

+ + +

The Jasper Newsboy last week related news of local events and local people which will be little regarded east of the Sabine or west of the Neches, but which reflect the inherent nobility in most people:

Four Burkeville and Newton fire fighters suffered heat injuries, always life-threatening, in the menace of a house fire in August. The kitchen was damaged but the rest of the house was saved, with all the necessities and little joys of life: a roof, a bed, clothes, books, and pictures of dear friends and family.

The Jasper Volunteer Fire Department, too, did some serious heat-time in raising funds for a little child suffering from leukemia. This is because the men and women of fire departments know more about the preciousness of children than the State of Texas.

In Tyler County a great many people, including law enforcement, prison staff, and just plain folks also risked their lives in the heat to search for an elderly man who was lost. They thought nothing for themselves, but all for their fellow man, who, in the end, they could not save. Their rewards in this life were a bottle of water, suffering, and sorrow, but for their gifts of service their names, too, are written in a great Book.

And finally, Jasper Mayor R. C. Horn, one of the peacemakers of whom Jesus spoke, has departed this life. In a turbulent time he faced down violence, jerks, idiots, opportunists, attention-seekers, and racists of all flavors with his quiet faith and dignity, and will always be a role model for all.

We are blessed with heroes everywhere; it’s just that we usually fail to see them and then learn from them.


A Novitiate in the World - poem

Lawrence Hall

A Novitiate in the World

“…you will go forth from these walls,
but will live like a monk in the world.”

-Father Zossima to Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov

Every vocation is a novitiate
And every labor a monastic prayer:
Matins and Lauds are sung over coffee,
Then Terce for the plough, the lathe, and the wheel

Sext is gratitude for the midday meal
And None is the hour for downing tools
Soft Vespers is the song of happy homes
‘Til Compline sends all good folk to their beds -

Final vows are taken at death; for now,
Every vocation is a novitiate

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Medical Waste in Texas - poem

Lawrence Hall

Medical Waste in Texas

Children are diminutive creatures who

Tease the dog
Pull the cat’s tail
Refuse to eat their vegetables
Resist daily baths
Want Goodnight, Moon read to them over and over and over and over…
Don’t give notice about upchuckings
Leave their toys on the lawn
Push little brothers down the stairs
Track mud through the house
Scream at each other
Scream for joy
Scream in frustration
Run screaming through the house
Cry for unknown reasons as well as for known ones
Tell Grandma entirely too much
Take “you’ll ruin your supper” as a challenge
Fidget during Mass
Hide notes from the teacher

Children are diminutive creatures who are not

Medical waste

S.T.E.M. - poem

Lawrence Hall


A Crucifix once stood in the village square
Around it centuries grew old; it blessed
Generations of weddings, markets, and feasts
Marked by the bells of canonical hours

Desecrated and smashed in the revolutions
And then replaced not with an empty cross
But with that gift of the Enlightenment
The efficient, progressive guillotine

And now a quest for flickering Pokemans where
A Crucifix once stood in the village square

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Forwarding Address - poems

Lawrence Hall

Forwarding Address

For Kathleen and Luther Lee Dockery,
of Happy Memory

A funeral is a study in awkwardness
Kleenex and hymnbooks strewn among the pews
Family and friends exchanging those well-meant words
That fail and fall from any meaning at all -

So let us remember them merry in life
Laughter and jokes, each cigarette aloft
As ensign to a verbal cavalry charge
Ideas and words volleyed in joy and love

And over coffee see them often again
For friendship is the study of forever

It's All About Family - poem

Lawrence Hall

It’s All About Family

A rush to change into trousers and shirt
Discarding pajamas and morning quiet
And a half-eaten breakfast burrito -
Dear God, the relatives are here again

They never ‘phone; like mayflies they appear
First peeking through the windows, and only then
Ringing the doorbell, breathless with gossip
And detailing their medical dysfunctions

They seem to settle in for the summer
While one’s soul longs for a burrito lost

Resistant to Change - poem

Lawrence Hall

Resistant to Change

But what change would that be? A fallen oak
A leafy country lane paved into progress
Lifestyles and glowing screens instead of friends
Superior locks and fences and bolts

And childhood photographs fading away
Just like their subjects in the long ago
Christmas morning cowboys in pajamas
Cap pistols silent now in Kodachrome

Dreams crumbling into frail antiquity
Resistant to change? Yes, rigorously so.