God willing and the creeks don’t rise

God willing and the creeks don’t rise,
The clouds will part and the sun will shine.


I have family in Houston. I hope they and all of the city of Houston pull through this safely.



Remember the phone

Oz is looking at his iPhone 6 remembering when trips in the car meant no annoying calls, remembering that what is good today does not last.


old black dial phone

Remember the phone
In grandpa’s house
A brown box that hung on the wall
A cord and ear tube with which to hear
A tube in which to speak
A girl in a distant room says
May I help you?

Remember the phone
Your parents had just one
Black and squat it sat on the counter
And in your hand, you held the power
To speak and hear at once
And sometimes you imagined you were blind
While your fingers played with the holes
Just to hear
The ding-a-lingy of the dial while
You wondered what happened to that girl

Remember the booth that stood on every corner
A glass box that became shelter from the rain
Where Superman could change
Where dimes were more precious than gold
To one who needed more time
But time caught up with us all
And mid-sentence came a click

I’ve lived long enough to know
That what was once good enough is gone

How to write a sentence #1

quillLet us have a conversation, friend, on how to write a sentence, and if we do it right my friend, let it be a pleasure, not a penance.

The ancient Greek poet Homer knew that language needs to be sonorous to be remembered. Long lines of disconnected, harsh sounding words are hard to memorize. Words must make sense and should sound pleasing, language being music to the ears and food for the soul.

In her writing Gertrude Stein famously avoided commas as unnecessary interruptions in the flow of thought. One made up thought floating out there in the internet is this:

Commas are the slaves of the sentence, according to Stein, and we know that slavery is never a good thing. If the sentence can’t make sense without multiple commas, rewrite it.

We know it is made up because it has several commas and repeats. Wait, I take half that back since, “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Stein did say this:

“A comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma.”

Now isn’t that nicely said without a pause or a comma?

So, should I say:

Let us have a conversation friend on how to write a sentence; and if we do it right my friend let it be a pleasure not a penance.

If you noticed the switch from comma to semi-colon, give yourself bonus points.

Disons nous une conversation mes amies sur la façon d’écrire une clause; Et si nous nous la faisons bien mes amis laisse faire plaisir et ne pas pénitentiaire.


The Rise of the Machines

“… you just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans,” said Isaac Asimov, I, Robot. Except, thank goodness, the fact that we can eat hamburgers; that alone, my friend, might be the only difference.


The Rise of the Machines

Robots are in the workplace, we just haven’t noticed.
Ray Kroc knew this when he pitched his multi-mixer to the MacDonald’s brothers in the 1950’s. Now, one multi-tasker bot from Momentum Machines can patty, flip, and serve 400 made-to-order burgers in an hour, and could soon replace an entire McDonalds crew.

Needed restaurant “generalist” to supervise the machine. No education required.

What is the word I am looking for

What is this fascination we have with words?

Who has not spent an hour, a day, or a week searching for the right word, and having found one, will change it for another, then another. And daring to wax poetic we fail, like the child wanting to catch an elusive butterfly, flailing with net, coming up with empty air.


Prologue to Troilus and Criseyde

It was then quite refreshing to come across these words from Georffrey Chaucer’s Prologue to Book 2 of Troilus and Criseyde.

Middle English

Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
With-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem; and yet they spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
Eek for to winne love in sondry ages,
In sondry londes, sondry ben usages.

Chaucer’s speech is Middle English, the language spoken after the Norman invasion, influenced by French, but connected to the language of the Saxons and Angles who came to the British Isles in the Middle Ages. With a little study the words and meaning become clear.

Following the rhetorical salutation “you know” we are greeted by the strange sounding  word “eek” in line 22 (pronounced like “eck” and not the sound we make when we see a mouse) is derivative of the German “auch” meaning “also” or “besides”.

Third line, the word “prys” is “prize” which is a fair equivalent for value. Line 26, “spedde” is the past tense of “speed”. It is a word familiar even in Shakespeare’s time in the common salutation “Speed well” meaning may your trip go quickly and without mishap. “Fare” and “farewell” is a more modern adaptation. “Eek” appears again in the second to last line. Here it is better to substitute “besides”. The word “sondry” we spell “sundry” but the meaning is the same, “various”.

The last line repeats the word “sondry” twice, referring first to different lands, and second to the usage of speech. The verb “ben” is our “been” expressing a form of the verb “to be”. Today, one might more appropriately say “have been” to imply continuous usage, but “were” fills the bill nicely.

Modern English

You know also that the form of speech changes
Within a thousand years, words though
That had value then, now seem wondrous nice and strange
We think them; and yet they spoke them so
And fared as well in love as now men do;
Besides, to win love in sundry ages,
in sundry lands, there were sundry usages.

In Chaucer’s day, French was the language of court and had been so for 300 years. Despite this, and the continuing marriages with French princess, and wars in France, England seems to have had an affinity for the language fiven it by the Saxon and Angles who invaded the island in the Middle Ages.

French translation

Were I to translate Chaucer’s English to courtly French, I might, without the correct rhyme or meter, have this:

Savez que la forme de la parole change
Dans mille ans, les mots si
Cela a eu une valeur, alors, semble maintenant belle merveilleuse et étrange
Nous les pensons, et ainsi ils les ont parlé
Et aussi bien réussi dans l’amour que maintenant les hommes;
D’ailleurs, pour gagner l’amour dans les âges divers,
dans les terres diverses, il y avait des usages divers.

Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer, first poet to be buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Harry Patch

I confess that I am fascinated with the veterans of World War I. It is a sad fact that there are none still living to tell their stories.

My grandfather James Madison Pearson was one. He arrived on the battlefields as a first lieutenant, in time to experience many of the battles, become wounded, then met and married a young French girl, Marguerite Chevallier Meine, who was my grandmother.

It is an irony that I, like so many, owe my existence to the tragedy of war.

Like my grandfather and father, I served in the Army. As a young Army captain in Germany, I took my wife to visit Verdun. I was in uniform, a rule the French imposed on visiting American soldiers. Driving into the hallowed grounds at Verdun I was greeted by a French soldier in uniform. He was old the, approximately the age of my grandfather who had died a few years earlier. He stood tall and erect despite his age. He sharply saluted me as I entered the grounds with my wife and I drove on.

I again confess, I was taken aback by the honor of his salute. It was he who deserved my salute.

Harry Patch, Daily Telegraph, 2009

In 2007, Harry Patch, at the age of 109, the last survivor of the trenches of WWI, gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/features/3633344/Ive-never-got-over-it.html). In this interview and in other interviews, he told of his experiences.

Much of it bears repeating, all of it bears reading.

We were the PBI. That’s what we called ourselves. The poor bloody infantry. We didn’t know whether we’d be dead or alive the next day, the next hour or the next minute.

We weren’t heroes. We didn’t want to be there. We were scared. We all were, all the time. And any man who tells you he wasn’t is a damn liar.

And in all that time, although I never said it, I still felt a deep anger and resentment towards our old enemy, the Germans.

Three years ago, at the age of 106, I went back to Flanders for a memorial service. I met a German veteran, Charles Kuentz. It was 87 years since we had fought. For all I know, he might have killed my own comrades. But we shook hands. And we had so much more in common than I could ever have thought.

He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak German. We had a translator but in a way we didn’t need him. After we had talked, we both sat in silence, looking at the landscape. Both of us remembering the stench, the noise, the gas, the mud crusted with blood, the cries of fallen comrades.

Once, to have shaken the hand of the enemy would have been treason, but Charles and I agreed on so much about that awful war. A nice old chap, he was. Why he should have been my enemy, I don’t know.

It is a sad, solemn, and sobering fact, that the bodies of many dead soldiers were never recovered. And so, they never received a proper burial. Many of the bodies and body parts recovered were unrecognizable.

One night late September 1917, Harry Patch’s battalion, part of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry Brigade, was pulled out of the line and moving to the rear over open ground when a German shell exploded. Harry was wounded in the groin by a shell splinter.

One other member of the five-strong team survived. Three were blown to bits.

“It killed Number Three – he came from Truro – and Number Four and Number Five. Jack and Jill we called those two. They came from Falmouth. Number Three was known as Maudy. There was an actress of that name. He had a good sense of humour.”

Tyne Cot is the largest cemetery in Belgium, the final resting place of those who fought and the names of those who bodies were never recovered. It is located 9 kilometers, about 6 miles, north east of Ypres.

Tyne Cot, view from the southwest corner

There are 11,956 soldiers buried here, of which 8,369 are unnamed. The stone wall surrounding the cemetery markers makes-up the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, with more than 33,000 names.

Tyne Cot

The curious history of the Ladybug

[In late September of 1916, British and French soldiers renewed their attacks on German lines around Thiepval. At a heavy cost to both sides, the British took the village of Thiepval. Heavy rains fell the first week of October, turning the fields to mud and silencing the guns for a moment. The Daily Telegraph ran the headline, A Quiet Break on the Front.

I am touring the battlefields. Outside the memorial at Thiepval to the more than 72,000 missing British soldiers, whose bodies were never recovered, there in fields in the wheat, I spot a ladybug waiting for an aphid to eat.]

Ladybug on a stalk of grass hunting aphids

The curious history of the Ladybug should be told. It is an old tale, whispered by children amongst themselves. Never, no not ever, told to an adult under any circumstances at all. This beetle, quite little, is delightfully charming. What’s more, surprise, it flies like a bird. So gather round children, I will tell you the tale, but promise me, to dad and mom, nary a word.

In England it is not uncommon to call a ladybug a ladybird. This delightful orange insect, which is in fact a beetle and not a bug, can fly away if threatened. English children came up with a nursery rhyme for the ladybug –

“Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house in on fire and your children are gone”

One explanation for the words comes from the farmers’ custom of burning fields in late fall to rid the land of grasshoppers, aphids, and other pests. But, spare the ladybug if one can, which consumes 50 to 60 aphids a day over a two to three-year life span. In winter ladybugs don’t eat a thing, but hibernate and gather together for warmth and protection.
One other explanation of the ladybug rhyme.
The daughter of King Henry VIII, Bloody Queen Mary assumed the throne of England in 1553, after the death of her younger half-brother James. She ruled for five years. During that time, she reinstated Roman Catholicism and made her point by burning at the stake more than 280 Protestants. At her death in 1558, Elizabeth I became Queen of England and reversed Bloody Mary’s religious proclamation. The saying of Mass was outlawed and Jesuits declared traitors. Priests who continued to say Mass were often punished by being drawn and quartered, rather than burned at the stake.
Thus, the nursery rhyme was a child’s code word to watch out.
The irony is that the ladybug’s name comes from the Virgin Mary.
When their fields were plagued by aphids, farmers prayed for divine intersession. The little orange beetle came and ate the aphids, sparing the farmers’ crops. The beetle became the Ladybug.


In French, ladybug is coccinelle,” – Insecte de forme ronde, dont le corps est rouge à pois noirs. La coccinelle est l’amie des jardiniers parce qu’elle se nourrit de pucerons .


[Let us take break from the battlefields of World War I and the fields of Flanders.  Jacques Brel, who was Flemish, wrote this beautiful and haunting song, Marieke in Flemish and French. It is an old love story, a reminder that life without love is dark and desolate.]



“Marieke” is a diminutive of Maria, my sweet Maria. The name is considered uniquely Belgian, although it later became popular in Holland. I suspect it is old. My wife’s family is Frisian* and the earliest female ancestor to arrive in America in 1642 was named, Volkje Juriaens van Noorstrant. “Volkje” being a diminutive of falcon, as in little falcon.

There is a beauty in words and always a certain amount of confusion in translation.

“Zonder” is most often translated as without, but it can also be used as, out of. Perhaps Jacques meant it both ways. “Flamand” is certainly a play on words for the Flemish country and the French – flaming sky. “Vlaanderland,” reminds me of the German “Vaterland.”It is used in so personal as to be not translatable without losing the sense of the word.

Here’s my translation.

Ay Marieke, Marieke je t’aimais tant
Entre les tours de Bruges et Gand
Ay Marieke, Marieke il why a longtemps
Entre les tours de Bruges et Gand
Zonder liefde warme liefde
Waait de wind de stomme wind
Zonder liefde warme liefde
Weent de zee de grijze zeeZonder liefde warme liefde
Lijdt het licht het donk’re licht
En schuurt het zand over mijn land
Mijn platte land mijn VlaanderlandAy Marieke, Marieke le ciel flamand
Couleur des tours de Bruges et Gand
Ay Marieke, Marieke le ciel flamand
Pleure avec moi de Bruges à Gand

Zonder liefde warme liefde
Waait de wind see’est fini
Zonder liefde warme liefde
Weent de zee déjà fini

Zonder liefde warme liefde
Lijdt het licht tout est fini
En schuurt het zand over mijn land
Mijn platte land mijn Vlaanderland

Oh Marieke, Marieke, I loved you so
Between the towers of Bruges and Ghent
Oh Marieke, Marieke, so long ago
Between the towers of Bruges and Ghent
Out of love, warm love
The wind blows, the quiet wind
Out of love, warm love
Cries the sea, the grey sea
Without love, warm love
Suffers the light, the dark light
And sends the sand over my country
My flat country, my VlaanderlandAy Marieke, Marieke the flamming sky
Colors the towers of Bruges and Ghent
Ay Marieke, Marieke the Flemish sky
Weeps with me from Bruges to Ghent

Out of love warm love
Blows the wind, it is done
Out of love warm love
Weeps the sea, until the end

Out of love warm love
Suffers the light and all is done
And showers the sand over my land
My flat land, my Vlaanderland

*Frisia is an ancient land, first mentioned by the Romans and Pliny the Younger in the first century. According to Pliny, they lived in man-made hills along the coast line of the North Sea. Linguistically, it is akin to German, and unlike Dutch in its pronunciation. Flemish is written like Dutch, but pronounced like German. The Frisian that is still spoken in the Jutland peninsula sounds like a mix of German and English.

Plan B

[Another in a series of posts about World War I and the Battle of the Somme. This year marks the one hundredth year anniversary.]


September, 2016, Fields of Flanders.

I am in Europe on vacation with my two brothers-in-law. Adam, Andy, and Art, in case you were wondering. Three A’s. Three lawyers. At times, three assholes, some would say. Adam says I am contentious. What does that mean? Three of us in a car on our way to celebrate (is that the right word?) the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The fields of Flanders are all about us. Beautiful, I think. The picturesque homes and farms, the flowers. The very image of peace and tranquility.

I am driving down the highway minding my own business, gawking at the scenery, driving slowly, but not so slow as the small truck in front of me. The one with the blue bike on the back and the box. Just in case.

Thinking, thinking about all those lost souls on the battlefields.

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything.” Anne Lamott’s words, but they ring true for most of us. I remember being thirteen, reading books on faith, even Thomas Aquinas, which is a lot for a thirteen-year-old to tackle, in church and wanting to believe, but struggling. Waiting for a sign but seeing and hearing nothing. Faith is not in a book and not in a mass. Faith is in believing in the bottom of your heart when there is nothing else. As I said, I have a lot of faith, I trust it is all going to work out.

But wouldn’t it be nice have a Plan B?

Thoughts on reading Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith


Faith is what you have when you cut and chop everything up. You pull it apart and look, deep into the inner recesses of what matters. So what if it is untouchable and unknowable. Lots of things are, but it is still felt, and felt all the more strongly because it comes from the heart.