Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Toy

The Christmas Toy

It came Christmas Time,
But they only have a dime.

Mom and Dad woke the boy
And told him he got a toy.

It was so fun
He thought he got a ton.

He uses it so often,
He still has it in his coffin.

--Britnye Vela, Age 9
(Bob Hall's Granddaughter)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Two Christmas Poems for Veterans

A Veteran’s Christmas Wish

Each year when Christmas comes around again,
I pause on Christmas Eve to take a dram
Of whisky, and I think of absent friends,
And Christmas in a place called Vietnam.

I think of boys who never had the chance
To see their kids on Christmas Eve at play,
Their lives were spent that freedom might advance,
From Valley Forge right up through yesterday.

They fell at Belleau Wood and Normandy,
At Gettysburg, at Iwo and at Hue,
They gave their lives to keep our people free,
And never saw another Christmas Day.

So take a moment from your festive joys,
To think of soldiers who were young and true,
And say a prayer on Christmas Eve for boys
Who gave up all their Christmases for you.

Copyright © 2000
Robert A. Hall
Former SSgt, USMC

Spell check notes: Scotch whisky has no “e.”
Hue (Vietnam) is pronounced “way.”

The Christmas Gift

There is a gift that comes
From those out on the lines,
It is not wrapped in bows,
But, oh, how bright it shines.

There is a Christmas gift,
A pearl beyond all price,
From those who ask for naught,
But make the sacrifice.

They risk their blood and bone
On endless weary tours,
For that is all that keeps
The evil from our shores.

You worship as you will,
You freely have your say,
And all that is a gift
From sentries far away.

There is a gift that comes
From troops who guard the line,
That lets us live in peace
And joy at Christmastime.

We say “Support the troops,”
But hardly pause to think
What honor really means,
Or how near looms the brink.

There is a Christmas gift
From those who hold the line,
And you and I, my friend,
Get nothing more sublime.

(c)Robert A. Hall 2007
Former SSgt, USMC

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day

The troubled world can offer no award
To you who sleep beneath the chiseled stone.
You died because we handed you the sword,
And we are free because you sleep alone.

The tides of history well may change the cause,
And time may blunt the sharpness of the debt,
For sacrifice, a nation under laws
Is gathered here today, lest we forget.

--Robert A. Hall

I composed this poem while marching in the Fitchburg, MA Memorial Day Parade in 1975, then used it in my speech at the upper common.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Wall

He traces names, maneuvering the chair
against the slope. The panels stretch out black
and still. Each year he vows he’ll not be back,
but every bitter April finds him there.
The first few names of friends are low. But four
are cut up high, and he would need a leg
to stand and trace them. So he has to beg
for help from strangers innocent of war.

Some years ago he pushed his wheels to where
the leader lived. He’d stared across the lawn
beyond the bars—the tourists had all gone—
then cursed and spat upon the ground. A pair
of guards had turned away without a nod.
—You’d think that it would break the heart of God.

—© Robert A. Hall, 1998

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hunting pheasant

The South Dakota sun sat low, diffused,

and hung the sky in shrouds of brooding gray.

The wind sliced through my parka’s shell, my shirt,

my skin and pierced, it felt, my marrow. More

than that, it covered all the other sounds

with a howling sort of silence. The crops were in

-- we walked the barren fields for pheasant cocks –

and from toe of boots to line of sky, the rose

was bare. With stomping boots and raucous talk

we tried to scare the birds from furrow holds

behind cut stalks until forgotten prairie homes

appeared and made us stop.

....................................................I walked as if

among the graves of kin, with lighter step

and whispered words. The last to live here are now

long dead, but it’s not for them I show respect.

It’s more the loss of dreams they loved and way

of life they shared. It’s more the closeness to the earth,

the knowing your own hands to be enough.

A couple stood upon this piece of land

and said, “This is our home: It’s here we’ll have

our babies; here is where they’ll bury us.

This is our place on the turning sacred wheel.”

A flock took wing and flew to hide behind

the barn, but my eyes were fixed on the house’s eyes,

a wall of darkened panes staring back.

Upstairs, a tattered curtain is hanging still.

I knew the room was small – I guessed a child’s,

with flowered walls, a ceiling slope, perhaps

a toy remaining once the pox had gone.

As if a dream, I saw small hands

push back the drape, and a hopeful face

peer out. The porch roof sagged in slow decay,

but in its shade I saw them, Ma and Pa,

to share the evening breeze, so cool against

the day amid the summer’s fields. A dog,

a mongrel dog, with shaggy, matted coat,

rolls in the dirt out front to shake his fleas,

then sits up straight, its nose into the wind

to catch the scent of game. They pay the hound

no heed: their thoughts are for each other.

Together they work, together they love, and there

together they stay. They ask for nothing more.

This home has much to say, in a sort of song.

I wondered: Do the men who plow these fields

take pause to hear? I turned and stomped away.

I’ve long since left those hollow eyes,

but still they follow me. They always will.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A corner holds two rods

The men, the boys, don't come here anymore.
The women come to visit her and dim
the memory of he who went before,
but men and boys no longer mention him.
The house is growing empty places, grim
and chilling gaps where his things once gave
a quiet, dusty voice to secret hymns
that marked his modest path from womb to grave.
The men and boys don't join me here now; they've
forgotten how it was for them when he
inspired them, taught them, loved them. But I crave
the scent, the feel of traces left to me.
....A corner holds two rods -- not much is here --
....and when I turn the reels I feel him near.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lament for my Uncle

Bomber falling down

Bomber falling down
From the Belgian sky,
Uncle never known
Whirling down to die.

Battle of the Bulge,
Did not have to go,
Volunteered to fly,
Dead in Christmas snow.

German fighters came,
Wind from out the East,
Ours could not keep up—
Against a dying beast.

Tail gunner that day,
December, forty-four,
Not his usual job,
But that’s the way of war.

Tens of thousands fell,
Men who won’t return,
Gave to us our world,
Thank you, Uncle Vern.

--Robert A. Hall

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Short forms

One of my favorite forms is the Quatrain, pearls in four lines, and I have a small collection of those I consider the best. Here’s my contribution to the style:

It matters not if rich or poor,
This life is quickly through,
So give to friends a little more
Than they can give to you.
--Robert A. Hall

There was an American poet—alas, the name escapes my old brain, but readers may recall—who invented an English form of the Haiku. Instead of being based on syllables, which is very suited to the structure of Japanese, they are based on iambic beats, with one, two, three, four and one beats in the five-lines of the poem. I used to write more of these. One of my constructions is:

The still
Beyond the door
Was more than I could bear
So quietly, I grasped the knob
And turned.
--Robert A. Hall

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In Scotland's Hills

I joined the march at Hogmanay,
Twa ranks o pipers led the way
Fra King’s Hoose on a crystal day
--In Scotland’s hills

We walked to every butt and ben
And shared with folk throughout the glen
Their hospitality again,
--In Scotland’s hills

The laughter filled the sparkling air,
For there was hope and friendship there
To touch the hert, fra folk who care,
--In Scotland’s hills

And then inside a hamely place
The pipers played Amazing Grace
And made the tears run doon my face,
--In Scotland’s hills

This message fra Balquhidder Glen—
The world is not yet at an end,
And there are things we must defend
--In Scotland’s hills

--Robert A. Hall

Sonnet for the Vietnam Dead

They were but boys, whose lives you threw away.
They went because the country asked them to,
And served a cause their leaders would betray—
Thank Christ they never saw that bitter day.

They lived in holes, and slept in soaking rain,
Grew thin, and sick, and weary through and through.
They knew each day the taste of fear and pain,
And never thought that sacrifice was vain.

And when the touch of death had come around,
To valiant lives forever shaming you,
For love of comrades and by honor bound,
They poured their blood like water on the ground.

And we who loved them, we cannot forget—
And won’t forgive—while breath is in us yet.

--Robert A. Hall, Former SSgt, USMC


The days were long, but, oh, the years went fast,
And friends beloved have vanished from the scene.
I earned no honor past the name “Marine,”
And learned from Frost that nothing gold can last.
I laughed and wept and tried to serve the right,
And loved my country more than I loved life,
I thought her freedom always worth the strife,
And duty still the surest guiding light.

The past can charm with cherished memory,
But we are judged by what we do this hour,
For doing now is what gives us our power—
Tomorrow is a dream that may not be.
So go and do and strive and clear the way,
All victory lies in serving well today.

--Robert A. Hall

Family farm

A sharp November wind blew sheets of snow
across the yard and pressed the laden clouds
against the barren fields. He stopped the truck
between the house and barn to wait for word
of what was next. The wife, the one who called,
came out--an afghan wrapped around her head
and shoulders, more for comfort than for warmth.
She nodded toward the barn.

..................................................."I ring the bell
for breakfast, but he won't come. I'm scared to go."
She looked at him and said, "The auction's at noon."

"I'm sure he's fine," he lied. "He's likely just
up getting things together. Tell you what:
I'll go and see what's keeping him, OK?
You go on back in. Get some coffee hot."

She turned, then stopped and looked at him again.
"You know, they can take the farm, I'll get along.
But not that man--"

....................................."I know. I'll let him know.
It's not you. What he's going through is hard."

The barn was dark, so he stood and waited while his
eyes opened. Scents of hay and stock combined
with paint, and he relaxed a bit. "You here?"
He laughed. "This stuff ain't looked as good as this
in a 'coon's age." He waited. "The wife says chow
is on the table." Silence. "Time to call it quits."
He leaned against a post and put his hand
on leather. "I remember when your dad
decided to pass this bridle on to you.
It sure is pretty, but it never made
your pony any faster. You were so proud,
I thought you'd bust. The good old days, eh man?"
He moved toward the hayloft, wondering but
not worried about his friend. Again, he spoke
to the shadows. "Hey, I heard you sold your calves.
That's smart. Them bankers wouldn't know which end
to milk, eh? You and me are getting too old
for farming anyway."

.....................................He stopped and sighed.
He closed his eyes against it, turned and looked
to see if she had seen. The doors hung wide
and gray light pierced the musky tomb, but she
had gone. From there he could see beyond the house,
where lines of headstones bore a single name.
He shut the doors and turned to the boots--so worn,
so laden with mud and manure it made him proud--
and watched them swing in the sharp November wind.

--Russell King