Saturday, May 19, 2018

William Shakespeare



                                            William Shakespeare

                                            That beastly, bawdy bard of wily wit
                                            Did flit and flutter midst a storm of words.
                                            Such tapestries of telling tales he knit
                                            And pithy poems, pleasing herds of nerds!
                                            In madness and in subtle genius hot,
                                            His quill did quiver not, but wrote in rage,
                                            A raunchy rage with mad creation fraught,
                                            A savvy, saucy sage on every page!
                                            Outgrow my nit of wit he helped me much,
                                            Though more than little bit of nit remains.
                                            He graced my tiny mind with timely touch,
                                            Though time blots not all stains from my poor brains!
                                            Oh, Mr. Shakespeare—may I call you Will?—
                                            I thank you that your work inspires still.

                                            2018.05.16

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Where the Grass Is Greener



Forgive me for sounding cynical, but I can't be a Polyanna on this one—the grass really is greener on the other side of the property line!  Oh, well.  At least we have a front yard now . . . sort of.  As we say in ole Virginie, ah figger it’s either gonna dah, or it’s gonna come back to lahf.  I swear, we Jordans are finding it well nigh impossible to keep up with the Joneses in this hoity-toity swanky new highfalutin neighborhood of ours.  Then again, maybe blotchy half-dead grass will soon be all the rage among dinks and yuppies and upwardly mobile nose-thrusters, so I shall not despair just yet.  Moral of the story?  You can take Aaron out of the slack-jawed local-yokel lower-middle class, but you can’t take the slack-jawed local-yokel lower-middle class out of Aaron.  Duh-ang!  Maybe I should buy a bovine for this hayfield.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Let Him Carry You


Christ Walking on the Waters
by Julius von Klever, 1880
(Юлий Юльевич Клевер)


Let Him Carry You

Now underwater, just about to drown,
I upward glance and through the surface see
A hand extended, reaching for my own.
I reach and grasp and hold, but it is He
Who lifts as suddenly my strength
Gives way to darkness and my mind goes black.
Now on the sand, I ope my eyes at length
And look upon a single lonely track
From me back to the water where I flailed.
I tried to be like Him and walk to land.
I curse myself and say that I have failed.
But He says, “No—because you took my hand.
Compete with Christ?  That’s not what you must do.
Just grab my hand and let me carry you.”

2018.05.01

I wrote the above sonnet while thinking about
the painting "The Hand of God" by Yongsung Kim,
available to view or purchase here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Jerusalem in 701 B.C.


Judah and Jerusalem in yellow
surrounded by the Assyrian Empire
in light and dark green

701 B.C.

Now daughter Zion in the vineyard weeps,
A hut, a lodge, a cottage in a field.
The great Euphrates like a whirlwind sweeps
Across fair Judah, forcing her to yield.
Jerusalem, that loving God you spurned
Spurns you, subjecting you to foreign dangers—
Your country desolate, your cities burned,
Your land devoured and overthrown by strangers.
When Shiloah’s gentle waters you refused,
You put the vulture’s claws around your neck.
When prophets and commandments you abused,
You made your lands and lives an utter wreck.
Yet for all this, God’s hand is stretched out still
To punish or to rescue, as you will.

2018.04.30


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Equal Protection under Law


Equal Protection under Law

The equal worth of souls gives equal right
To equal opportunity in law,
And law, when equal right makes equal might,
Treats same as same, else forms a fatal flaw.
For if from opportunity to end
Law shifts, becoming arbitrary force—
If pow’r and whim make legal process bend
To prejudice, derailing law’s true course—
Then law makes war with nature and with men,
For men by nature most unequal are.
Their common conflicts multiply by ten
When equal ends fair freedom’s face do mar.
There is no greater inequality
Than men unequal treated equally.

2018.04.19


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sweet Mountain Madness




Sweet Mountain Madness

A waffle tower on a frozen mountain
Stands tall with frozen pride beside a spoon
Whose frozen head with sweets from frozen fountain
Makes joy when taste buds from its sweetness swoon.
Both cone and spoon join forces with a bowl
To hold a sweet elixir for a time,
A sweet time, sweetly pleasing to the soul
As mountain melts, exuding taste divine.
This time most sweet, like all time, cannot last,
For melted mountain tingles taste buds brief.
The crispy waffle tower crumbles fast
While crashing hard against a toothy reef.
Alas, the sweetness seems but dreamery
When sweetest smiles leave the Creamery.



Friday, March 9, 2018

How BYU Conquered My Anti-BYU Bigotry


How BYU Conquered My Anti-BYU Bigotry—
A True Tale of Two Poetasterific Sonnets
(adapted from an essay written during fall semester 2015)

            In the fall of 2013, while my wife, Katya, and I were living in Christiansburg, Virginia, my wife received an invitation from BYU to visit campus, present some guest lectures, conduct a class, and meet with the faculty of the Russian department.


(The famous "Y" at BYU—white, pure, so deliciously sanctimonious.)

            I recalled my mother’s warning of many years ago about why she could never live in Utah County: too many intellectual Mormons there—something wrong with all those smug apostate smarties down in Happy Valley.
            I also recalled her statement to me that middle-aged Mormon men in Utah were condescending toward women.
            And then there was my Russian history professor at Weber State who told me of a student of hers who visited BYU and returned to Ogden with the ominous report that the Nazi Party was alive and well in Provo, Utah.  I assumed that he was referring to BYU’s infamous, draconian, indeed procrustean Honor Code.
            Solicitous of my wife, I passed along these sagacious tidbits, and we both suppressed our apprehensions the best we could as Katya embarked on a risky exploratory mission into the very heart of darkness.
            My blissfully bigoted anti-BYU worldview turned topsy-turvy when my wife called me from Provo to report that she felt happier and more at home at BYU than at any other university she had ever visited.  Moreover, the handful of middle-aged Mormon men who took her out to lunch ranked among the best-behaved, most polite gentlemen of her acquaintance.  The students were outstanding.  The Russian program for undergrads was phenomenal, probably the biggest and perhaps the best in the country.  She quickly concluded that working as a professor at BYU would be the job of her dreams.
            Disoriented and disconcerted, I wrestled with acute cognitive dissonance as I posed to myself a difficult question: Could my infallible mother from California have been mistaken about quirky Utah Mormons, especially those at the one and only true and living university?
            I resisted the initial temptation to flip from anti-BYU to pro-BYU, and soon I shored up my faltering anti-Utah sentiments when my wife and I talked to an acquaintance of ours in Virginia.
            This acquaintance was a black single mother who had joined the Church only a couple of years earlier.  Happy to have found true religion, and filled with the elation of a new convert, she moved to Utah County to go to school.
            She told us soberly that the Church in Utah was not like the Church in Virginia.  No one paid much attention to her in Utah—everyone was too bottled up in their long-established clans within the ward she was attending.  She told us that had she first encountered the Church in Utah instead of in Virginia, she probably would not have joined.  The ostracism she encountered got so bad that she transferred her records to a Tongan ward in search of friendlier members.  Somehow she endured that trial of faith and remained true, but it shook her.
            It caused us pause as well.  BYU had made a good first impression on my wife, but we knew that we would much rather stay in Virginia than move back to Utah.
            Nevertheless, when in 2014 the Russian department at BYU announced an opening, my wife eagerly applied.  She survived the early cuts and strutted her significant Slavic stuff during another on-campus visit in January 2015.  For over two months we waited and prayed, and finally the news came at the end of March that my wife had been selected to fill the position.  We pushed aside our ambivalence about Utah and celebrated.



            As a connoisseur of narcissistic poetastery, and one who scoffed with temerity at the perils of persiflage, I announced our familial joy to the whole world—or at least to my several hundred digital friends—via Facebook.  I uploaded a photograph of myself wearing a solemn black graduation robe and a BYU baseball cap, and in my hands I held copies of The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.  Genuinely proud of my wife and willing to prostrate myself with not-quite-sycophantic flattery to stroke what little vanity she might have possessed, I composed beneath the photograph the following properly persiflaginous poem, complete with title and congratulatory accoutrements, in which I also poked gentle fun at BYU.

You Can’t Make an Omelet
Without Cracking Eggheads

To Provo’s mighty hills the Jordans fly
As once again my wife upstages me.
Today she sent her answer to the Y
And bid me call the moving company.
Some women go to earn their PHTs
As faithfully they Put the Hubby Through.
But I, of course, do not seek such degrees,
Nor can I view the place as B-Y-Woo.
Yet go I must, and Katya now makes me
With Russian accent sing the Cougars’ song.
No PHT for her! For she will be
Professor Jordan—I’ll just tag along.
She knows her Dostoyevsky and will rise
To lofty heights before her students’ eyes.

I am so proud of you!
And I hope ‘tis not a hubby’s hubris
to say you brim with brainy beauty.
Watch out, BYU—a certain radiant Russian
is about to blow your sanctimonious socks off.

            Soon that euphoria subsided, and as the time grew closer for me to terminate my career as a Virginia lawyer and move my small family more than two thousand miles to that strange foreign country known as Utah, my ambivalence and apprehensions about Utah sanctimony revived.



(Okay, so the "moving company" actually consisted of me and my 8-year-old son.
But we were about to become true blue BYU men, so we could handle it.)

            When we finally moved to Provo, one of my first impressions was that Utah drivers were pushy and inconsiderate, as hard as their water.  Moreover, never in my life had I witnessed so many vehicles running red lights.  But I could not judge the state by its drivers alone, because the drivers in Albequrque, New Mexico, had been even bigger jerks.  Oklahoma City had been pretty nasty too, so bad driving must have been a western hallmark, maybe because the huge distances gave everyone an incentive to speed all the time.  I had seen bad drivers in Virginia, to be sure, especially in the large urban centers like northern Virginia and Richmond and Virginia Beach, but the frequency of bad driving in Utah seemed greater.



            My guard was up when I went to church for the first time, and I scanned the people there with my ridiculousness radar in search of quirky Utah-Mormon behaviors, speech patterns, sacrilege, etc.  What a shock I experienced when my radar came up blank.  The people were friendly, unpretentious, genuinely spiritual—and normal!
            I remained undeterred.  I knew that the ultimate test would come at that glowing city of sanctimony known as BYU.  Surely there I would discover all the shallow hypocrisy necessary to preserve my precious prejudices and to keep my nose above the crowd.
            My first opportunity arrived when I transported about a dozen boxes of my wife’s books to campus.  My son and I had to make two long trips between our RAV4 in the visitor lot and my wife’s office in the Joseph F. Smith Building.


(A view from my wife's office at BYU in the Joseph F. Smith Building.
The white-washed holier-than-thou "Y" is visible on the mountainside.)

            During Trip Number One, a young woman, presumably a student but a complete stranger, passed us along a sidewalk and asked if we needed any help.  And she looked like she really meant it.  I figuratively scratched my head as I looked at her.  She was anything but an Amazon woman, so I was not sure where the brawny upper-body strength would come from.  Besides, had she not noticed the rippling pecs and bulging biceps that could not be concealed even by my modest, worthy-of-the-Honor-Code shirt?  I thanked her and politely declined, not because I am averse to accepting help from a young woman, but because I honestly had the push cart under control.
            During Trip Number Two, a young man stopped and asked if we needed help.  He also looked like he meant it.  With his clean-shaven good looks, his cheerful countenance, and his helpful disposition, he almost perfectly personified the New Soviet Man.  Although I possessed more confidence in his brawny strength than in the young woman’s, I declined his offer as well, not because I am an alpha male who cannot descend so low as to let another man think I need help, but because I still remained master of the push cart.
            What was wrong with these BYU students?  Meandering around campus, smiling and happy, eager to serve others, even total strangers—must have been too much mercury in the hard water.
            I returned to campus during Education Week and could not find a parking spot in the A lot that my wife had told me to use, so I drove to the little booth in the middle of the street to see if I could use the faculty lot underneath the Joseph F. Smith Building.  I explained my predicament to the young woman there, but her facial expressions distracted me, and I just about forgot what I was saying even while I was saying it.
            No, this was not a case of being smitten by plentiful pulchritude.  As she listened to me attentively, her eyebrows rose, her head tipped slightly to one side, and she nodded gently.  Never had I observed such overt compassion and empathy from a woman in uniform.  I felt like a kindergartener explaining to his teacher that he had lost his homework.  She did not condescend to me; she just genuinely felt my pain.  And then she let me park in the underground lot without any verification of who I was other than my self-serving word.
            Yet even that celestial pressure could not crack my anti-BYU prejudice—I still held out.
            Soon thereafter I traveled to the Marriott Center at BYU to attend an event for new faculty and their spouses.
            As I drove toward campus, I sneered at the sight of student joggers whose skimpy shorts rode dangerously high on the thigh.
            Aha!  Such beautiful hypocrisy!  I knew it!
            As I walked toward the Marriott Center, I also noted with diabolical pleasure a large, anachronistic poster showing a woman in Rose Marie Reid swimwear that did not conform to BYU’s dress standards.


(Not the exact poster I saw, but close enough.  Man, that guy sure looks happy—too happy, if you ask me.  Hungry, too.  And as for the girl—well, she ain't exactly complaining.  Was this the kind of debauchery I could expect my innocent family to be exposed to at BYU?  If my wife and I had dressed up like that and sashayed across campus, we would have been arrested.  
This and other jaw-dropping images of lovely ladies in dishabille can be found at http://exhibits.lib.byu.edu/rose-marie-reid/.  I last visited this site on March 9, 2018.)

            What a monstrous violation of the Honor Code!  Such glaring hypocrisy, right there on campus!  And this infraction was officially sponsored.
            I saw how it was with these BYU administrators—promulgating and enforcing the Honor Code with one hand while blatantly violating it with the other.  Talk about misreading the New Testament passage about the left hand not knowing what the right hand was up to.  Just as my mother had warned me, these BYU intellectuals were obviously wresting the scriptures to their own destruction.
            After I was comfortably and self-righteously seated in the Marriott Center and the program started, a dance number was announced, which I thought an odd way to kick off an orientation program for new faculty.
            Sure enough, when the dancers appeared, the female dancers wore silky red dresses with precariously short sleeves and low-cut slits in the back that revealed a narrow streak of skin (not that I was looking for it, I promise—it just jumped out at me).  So much for the Honor Code.
            Even worse, at one point during the dance number, each of the male dancers thrust an arm between the spread legs of his female partner and hoisted her high into the air so that she was doing the splits while perched on top of his shoulder.
            This was simply obscene!
            That’s probably why they took up ballroom dance, I thought—so they could violate the Honor Code with impunity.
            And another thought crossed my mind—perhaps I should take up ballroom dance.
            Something remarkable occurred during that dance number.  By the time the silky rivers of red had flowed out to sea and the music had stopped and the applause had quieted down, I noticed that I felt unusually calm and at peace.  That dance number had affected me somehow.  It had been . . . well . . . beautiful.
            From there it was all downhill for me.  President Worthen announced one inspiring presentation after another and made some inspiring remarks of his own, and by the time I walked out of the Marriott Center, my heart was so aglow with celestial edification that I felt as though I had never known myself.
            No wonder my wife had been impressed—this was the most amazing university in the entire world!
            At this point, my telestial manliness failed me—I finally snapped.  In a sudden burst of enthusiasm, I cast aside my hubris and instantaneously repented of all my sarcastic anti-BYU follies.  Within my newly enlightened soul I felt to exclaim: Oh, dearest sweet celestial sanctimony, enshroud me with thy calm eternal graces!  No more shall I resist thy siren song!  Now serve me up the Utah-Mormon Kool-Aid, raspberry-blue like noble BYU, and leave the pitcher please, for I shall guzzle!
            Like Winston Smith in 1984 when the bullet is entering his brain, I smiled and sighed with bona fide pride, awash with satisfaction at having finally won the victory over self.
            In honor of my hard-fought triumph, I composed another dilettantish sonnet.

True Blue BYU,
I’m So in Love with You!

Presided over by a worthy Worthen,
This city on a hill has shown us love.
The shackles of Virginia having fallen,
Celestial academics shine above.
No other university on earth
Provides such Christian freedom for my wife.
Her Russian subject takes on greater worth
As she adds to her teaching spiritual life.
So we’ll buy ice cream at the Creamery
And toast with chocolate milk good fortune’s bliss.
These tender mercies fill our reverie;
The heavens have bestowed them not amiss.
In Provo, Utah, all my dreams came true—
My family now belongs to BYU.