Monthly Archives: November 2014

Why I Like Being a Federal Judge, a poem

illustration why i like being a federal judge

Why I Like Being a Federal Judge, a poem

My absolute favorite thing to do is to make
rulings without enunciating any reasons at all.
Sure, I like the black robes, the high chair,

smacking the little wooden hammer.  But mostly
my fiercest joy is mental.  I’m not a flashy
creature:  I wear the same glasses I’ve worn

for the past forty years on the bench.
The bulky style flatters my high forehead,
my firm jaw.  It’s what I’m used to, and,

like any octogenarian, I like the things
I’m used to.  So for the same reason I let
them sweat to figure out why I decided the case

the way I did.  The lawyers really scramble
around then, falling over each other on the way
to appellate review like fat geese with

clipped wings being chased by a Rottweiler.
I am that Rottweiler — I still exercise
for an hour every other day.  Both my parents

lived well into their nineties.  I love it
when attorney-faces bulge red.  It’s fun
to watch from my elevated perch.  Being

reversed on appeal is considered a failure
to many, but not for me.  I don’t care one bit
about that sort of consistency.  Ask my wife.

My job, instead, is to highlight the glamour,
the magical, supple qualities of justice.
That pretty lady doesn’t wear a blindfold

for nothing, you know?  Occasionally I wonder
if I’d feel as good about myself without having
gotten this appointment.  You have no idea how

the power of life and death feels until you’ve
heard the slender moans of the duly convicted.
I remember years ago, before I was a judge —

the things I thought my clients were entitled to!
Now I know better.  They get exactly what
I feel like doling out on a given day — and

God save us all if I’m coming down with the flu.
There is always a lesson to be learned
from making decisions, wrong or right.

The more mysterious my legal theory, the more
deference it gets.  Why, sometimes I even
cite cases completely at random:  keep them

guessing, it’s the surest way to get respect.
At least when they’re beginning, baby lawyers
think themselves just too dumb to understand;

that’s the way I want to keep it.  Too many
findings of fact and conclusions of law
can drive a person batty.  The better practice is

to decide how I’d like reality to be, then sweep
the slate clean and start over rewriting history.
It’s why I am never in a difficult position

deciding how to approach a case.  But the very
best part of all is:  saying nothing about
the innards of my rulings raises no impediment

to being obeyed.  The U.S. marshals wear that badge
whether the parties want him to or not.  Plain and
simple, everybody’s stuck with me, for life.

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Filed under appeals, federal judge, judicial branch, judiciary, justice, law, legal system, logic, satire, truth

I KNOW NOTHING…

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Blood Mother, a poem (sculpture in the Orsay Museum, Paris)

illustration blood mother
Blood Mother, a poem (sculpture in the Orsay Museum, Paris)

She is made of wood, a silken hardness that begs touching.
Should anyone reach, trail a fingertip across her flesh,
the man in straps would speak, his mumbled words rasping
through the stopped air, turning beating cells boorish,

piercing desire’s heart, killing a love so old, so pure,
it has no real name. Such is obvious from the way she stands,
lifting her heavy hair, each hand the careful cynosure
of being — she drapes the primal fiber like garlands,

letting it flow free only to capture the thickness of trees.
Her eyes are closed. Under abraded lids resides the look
everyone knows: pupils enlarged by pain; simple refugees
from knowledge received of the body, woman’s final textbook.

The belly asks first. It says come, reside here within me,
neither cold, nor afraid, nor desirous — twirl and dream
of nothing but this spare salt universe, wear only veins, silky
wisps of hair, discreet, pale limbs enfolded by soft cream.

Her feet nourish the ground, her head becomes the forest.
Walk where her shadow falls, seek the margin of her arms,
soothe your tired neck in mother’s lucid heat, hedonist
entity you have become, set in blind motion under charms

worked by no laboratory scientist in a trim white robe.
Rather, you emerged redly from a thousand other deaths,
one messy cauldron holding shapes; the patient, springy web
of chosen elements drawn together, joined by many faiths.

The breasts want, too. Child, they sing in unison, nourish your
body with our thin white blood — suckle, cradle the nipple deep
against the palate, pull the flow from a dozen small pores, gnaw
strong like a velveted vise, drink true until you swallow sleep.

The need to believe is more than skin. Need is the whole glossy
image on this lonely wall; what it means to be such a mechanism!
She never schemed for her fey power — nor does she expect mercy.
You exist, mere fragile accident, in perfect jeweled synchronism.

Not as simple as punishment, nor as complex as grace, her skills
for life reside at a place men cannot enter, no fault of their
own. They build instead the world, of brick, stone; shy stabiles
meant to appease longing, courageous memorials to light, to air.

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Filed under art, art history, beauty, blood, compassion, earth, eternal, eternity, heart, love, man, mother, mothers, nature, orsay museum, paris, poetry, sculpture, soul, spirit, spiritual, warmth, woman, wood

Heads of Caracalla, a poem

illustration 1 heads of Caracalla

illustration 2 heads of caracalla

MC 0464

Heads of Caracalla, a poem

There are three of the ancient busts on display
in the Louvre.  Poor soul:  he only controlled
his great empire for six years.  I’ve been married
for seven, and though it isn’t like ruling Rome,

it’s hard enough.  Thus, I can’t imagine how
he managed, even if he could imprison or execute
at will.  Maybe stress did him in at twenty-nine.
True enough, during the heated third century

after Christ, the common man was too often dead
by thirty, teeth rotted away to stumps,
complexion scarred and worn, creased deep
like pegged and scraped hides drying in the sun.

Surely Caracalla’s own hands were soft,
languorous and pudgy, with those meticulous
shiny nails?  Perhaps he was afflicted
with diabetes, or simply poisoned by his lovely

but illiterate wife.  Will anyone wonder
what carried me off after a thousand years —
or even ten?  During three decades on earth,
sculptors recorded all his secrets:  first the pretty

baby, innocent and round-cheeked as any three-year-old,
blunt-cut curls springing away from his tender forehead
like the petals of an iris.  Around the time
of his ascension, he had become sullen, his eyes

impenetrable, glassy, his torso clumsy, thick-necked,
his full, full lips bowed with palpable cruelty.
I must admit, by the year of his death, he’d grown
into his flesh — he looks wise, even kind,

and his drilled marble eyes are lively, holding
a gleam of curiosity for something outside his own
imperial body.  I place my finger against the hard marble
cheek, hearing my own frail life tapping its brisk heels.

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Filed under ancient history, art, art history, beauty, bust, childhood, death, emperor, empire, everything, history, life, louvre, manhood, marble, maturity, mortality, museums, paris, poetry, rome, sculpture, travel, universe, youth

Searching for Dreams in Little Havana, a short story/novel excerpt

illustration searching for dreams in little havana

Searching for Dreams in Little Havana, a short story

Karen knows it’s a bad sign when she sits wondering whether the man she’s crazy in love with is a liar, or a fool, or both. Fuck first, talk later, yes, that approach seems outdated, rather quaint. Impatience has always been her biggest problem. The way this one calls women bitches, it’s like a warning beacon, but she’s not listening because she already thinks she loves him.

Karen wants this man. Or rather, she wants something, and she is trying to figure out if it is him. She orders a latte made with chocolate milk, lights another cigarette. The waiter serving her is thin to the point of illness — his sharp elbows have worn holes in the sleeves of his chambray blouse. The waiter looks nothing like the man she thinks she wants. She wonders if the waiter wants anyone, right now.

“Can I get you anything else?” he, the waiter, asks.

“An audience with the Pope?” she says. “Eternal life, maybe?” She is only partly kidding. She has had her past lives examined under hypnosis. She remembers being locked in a tomb in France. She did not care for it.

The waiter laughs and shakes his head. He flees from her the way young waiters always flee from her — looking back over his shoulder, tossing his hair out of his eyes, knees trembling like a young mule deer’s.

 

Karen calls Edward, the man she thinks she wants, from her office. While the phone is ringing, her assistant comes to the doorway. She holds a sheaf of papers which Karen knows is the monthly billing.

“Go away,” Karen says to her, smiling. This is the way she talks to all her employees — imperious jokes, self-mocking but at the same time crushing and heavy with the power she refrains always from using.

“Hello,” says Edward.

“What are you doing?” Karen asks.

“Paying bills,” he says.

“Can I come over?”

“Right now?”

“I told you I was impatient. I’m tired of dictating.”

“I need to dust off,” he says. “Shower, change.”

“Twenty minutes?” she says.

“Make it forty,” he says.

Before she gets out of the office, her ex-husband calls. Donald is furious, he is always furious, it is the reason they are no longer married. Donald has forgotten how to have fun. Either he has forgotten, or he never knew. He is a very practical person, he runs a tidy house, a neat garden, a solid social life. Karen is no longer sure what drew her to him in the first place. She tries to remember, often when she lies down to sleep she thinks of what it was like to live with him — the predictable days, the fully planned weekends. He never kissed or bit her in the throes of passion, merely covered his face with his hands, as though trying to block her out. He never talks about religion, nor politics, nor his health.

“Where have you been?” her ex-husband says. “You missed Sara’s school open house. I tried calling you all day. Didn’t your secretary tell you?”

“I had an emergency to attend to,” she says. “One of my clients was stranded in Baltimore.”

“Well, there’s always a reason,” he says. “There’s always a reason for the way you neglect your personal life.”

“I guess that’s why you divorced me,” she says. Karen remembers the day she told him she didn’t want to stay married to him — he threw his shoes at her , but they landed in the kitchen sink, splattering her with soapy water. She can have no doubts.

She kept waiting for Donald to have an affair, so she wouldn’t have to. But he was lazy, he put aside passion and loveliness and focused only on money. He could make a lot of it, it was his best talent.

 

At thirty-five, Karen gets carded one last time for cigarettes, tells the clerk she’s really old, takes off her sunglasses to show him her crow’s feet. Later, her man Edward says with heat, oh, he wanted you. She laughs nervously. No man is able to endure her — it comes from how her father left, how he wanted to stab her when she was born, how her secret heart is looking for some man to make up for that, to endure every hateful thing she can say but never leave.

Most of her adult life has been spent sleeping, so when Karen develops insomnia, she assumes it’s her own fault, always having been a slugabed. She has the blues every day even before she gets up. Life is both too full and too empty to tolerate. Like a snake, she holds everything in fierce embrace, she has loved it all so much, it is dead. She has slept enough, she decides, she’ll make the best of these wakeful hours. She takes up needlepoint, cross-stitch, knitting and crochet, and soon her living room is filled with her creations. Still, she misses her dreams.

Karen goes to a shop in Little Havana, searching for some harmless herbal remedy, something almost, but not quite, a placebo. She’s a firm believer in the power of the mind over the body. Witchcraft is another thing entirely, so when the pale shop-woman draws back a beaded curtain and motions her in to the back room, which smells of burnt sugar, she hesitates. She takes in the woman’s hairy upper lip, her gold canine tooth, her precisely lined red lips, her sexy upper arms — decides it’s worth a try.

Hirsuteness notwithstanding, the pale woman is abnormally beautiful, the kind of beauty women admire and men find frightening — hard, pristine, with sharp angles everywhere. This lady’s nose is a work of art, of architecture, of poetry. All Karen wants is to close her eyes and dream of this moment, twist it into a candy fluff to sustain her through the miserable waking hours.

It’s her desperation, Karen guesses, which has aroused the shop-woman’s sixth sense, a sympathy so strong her pale hands shake as they hold the tangle of beads behind her. Karen blinks back tears, surprised. The bottle the woman chooses is purple, with a gold foil label. Imported from Cuba, it reads. Cuban witchcraft — Castro hasn’t killed every colonial superstition, evidently.

And the voice in Karen’s head says: do what you must, and break your heart down even farther, you haven’t touched the depths yet, of where I will take you. And you will weep for your own folly, and still not be satisfied. You ask for sleep. What can you live without most easily? What can you give up, forever?

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Filed under beauty, divorce, evil, good, love, marriage, men, mysterious, relationships, sex, short stories, truth, women

NOTHING FIXES…

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Rosalia (Rosa multiflora), a poem

illustration rosalia

Rosalia (December 13, 1918 – December 6, 1920), was a child who died of pneumonia.  Her father was so grieved by her death, he hired a famous embalmer to preserve her body.  It is still nearly perfectly preserved, nearly 100 years later.  This poem was written after observing a  garden near her tomb, planted with the flower she was named for, Rosa multiflora, commonly called Rosalia, an especially fragrant and vigorous climbing rose.

 

Rosalia (Rosa multiflora)

 

The haughty snail rears up, large and indolent,

its creamy shell ponderous, though rakishly tilted.

The knowing eyes unfurl on stalks greyish-violet,

above tender undulate flesh, faintly quilted

 

as if by past misdeeds. Near a warm slate path

thrust through the damask-brown earth, a small bird

dips wings, cocks head, perches on the birdbath

shaped in the lithe innocence of a fair-haired

 

Roman cherub. The rose-heads swoon in the sun,

lazy petals curled inward to form delicate bowls

ravished by enormous bees, whose silvery finespun

wings vibrate, ceaseless keepers of love’s oversoul.

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Filed under beauty, daughters, fathers, love, mourning, mysterious, nature, parenting, poetry, truth