Saturday, November 12, 2016

Robert Lee Haycock writes

Looking for Lawrence in the desert

Hop Sing has the right idea
Pop-up trailer and 4-wheel drive
I am saddle-sore and feeling pissy
Tired of sleeping on the cold ground
But where could he be?
More to the point, where is he?
Gas station, liquor store, strip club
Myopic development goes on
Far as the eye can see
This iteration and its re-
Thinking what Larry had done
To those sweet Lennon girls 
Janet, Kathy, Peggy, and Ringo
Made my blood boil when
It wasn’t running cold
My brother regretted losing that
Bet, the offer of a hand, job
Is a job is a job as
The sparks fly upward

Lawrence of Arabia -- Davis Williams-Ellis


  1. Bob has performed a wonderful bit of creative confusion here. The title seems to allude to T. E. Lawrence, the renowned "Lawrence of Arabia." His father was Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish nobleman (a future baronet) from County Westmeath, who abandoned his wife to live in Tremadog, Caernarvonshire (now Gwynedd) Wales, with his daughters' governess Sarah Junner, a Scottish governess; they called themselves "Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence." Before World War I he id qrcheological work at Carchemish (in modern Syria), then joined the British army stationed in Egypt. In 1916 he was sent on an intelligence mission to Arabia and became cloely associated with future king Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, the leader of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman empire. His acheivements were exaggerated by American war correspondent Lowell Thomas, who spent a few weeks with him in 1918, then toured the world with lectures about the new hero. In 1919 Colonel Lawrence was a member of Faisal's delegation to the Paris peace conference, became a gifted translator of Homer and of French literature, worked as an adviser to colonial secretary Winston Churhill, joined the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman under the name John Hume Ross, was forced out when his real identity was revealed, joined the Royal Tank Corps as private T. E. Shaw, and was readmitted to the RAF. In the meantime he wrote and published the autobiographical "Seven Pillars of Wisdom,"w ith editorial assistance from George Bernard Shaw (whom Lawrence thanked in the preface "for countless suggestions of great value and diversity: and for all the present semicolons"). Two months after leaving military service at 46, he was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident accident. Mourners at his funeral included Churchill and novelist E. M. Forster. One of the doctors attending him was neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns, who consequently began a long study of the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries; his research led to the use of crash helmets by military and civilian motorcyclists.

  2. However, Bob isn't about Lawrence -- the "desert" is the Hollywood version of the West, as depicted the hallowed TV series "Bonanza," the first American "color TV" program and the National Broadcasting Corporation's longest-running Western (1959-1973). "Hop Sing" was the Cartwright family's Chinese cook on their ranch near Virginia City, Nevada, bordering Lake Tahoe. He was played by Victor Sen Young (who had previously become well known as Chinese detective Charlie Chan's "number two son" in a number of films in the 1930s and '40s.). (The character Hop Sing had originally appeared in Bret Harte's 1876 play, "Two Men of Sandy Bar." ) In 1972 the Federal Bureau of Investigation stormed a highjacked plane, seriously wounding Young and another passenger and killing a third (plus the two Bulgarian hijackers); these were the first passengers injured in a hijacking in the US. After "Bonanza," he authored "The Great Wok Cookbook" (1974) and a small mail-order Chinese pottery business out of his home. While curing clayware on an oven in 1980, he died of natural gas poisoning from a leak but his body was not discovered for 10 days. Pernell Roberts, who had been with him on "Bonanza" for six years, delivered his eulogy and paid his funeral expenses. In 2001-02, the character was revivedby actor Gareth Yuen in David Dortort's PAX-TV prequel," Ponderosa." But Bob's poem reaches the height of its delicious absurdity with the lines"Thinking what Larry had done / To those sweet Lennon girls / Janet, Kathy, Peggy, and Ringo" in which he joyfully conflates three of the Lennon Sisters (who starred on" The Lawrence Welk Show" from 1955 to 1968) with the 1969s rock group the Beatles (John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison)! (One further note, concerning thE phrase "job / Is a job is a job": despite their celebrity and longevity on their respective TV series, Young was only paid per episode and the Lennons received only union-scale wages.)

  3. A further note: "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" cpmtained a dedicatory poem, "To S.A.", possibly referring to one of his favorites, Selim Ahmed, a 19-year-old Arab from Syria who died of typhus a few weeks before the offensive to liberate Damascus in the final weeks of the war. Lawrence had been involved in the build-up to its capture, which he had envisioned as the capital of an independent Arab state. However, he was not present at the city's formal surrender, contrary to instructions which he had issued. He was instrumental, though, in establishing a provisional Arab government there under Faisal.
    I loved you, so I drew these tides of
    Men into my hands
    And wrote my will across the
    Sky in stars
    To earn you freedom, the seven
    Pillared worthy house,
    That your eyes might be
    Shining for me
    When I came

    Death seemed my servant on the
    Road, 'til we were near
    And saw you waiting:
    When you smiled and in sorrowful
    Envy he outran me
    And took you apart:
    Into his quietness

    Love, the way-weary, groped to your body,
    Our brief wage
    Ours for the moment
    Before Earth's soft hand explored your shape
    And the blind
    Worms grew fat upon
    Your substance

    Men prayed me that I set our work,
    The inviolate house,
    As a memory of you
    But for fit monument I shattered it,
    Unfinished: and now
    The little things creep out to patch
    Themselves hovels
    In the marred shadow
    Of your gift.

    Lawrence sent the dedication, in prose, to Robert Graves, who rewrote an entire stanza and heavily edited the others to mold it into its final form.


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