Angus was resting his bones in the warm sun, watching the man and the boy.

The man was deeply tanned, his face wrinkled, his hands work-worn but strong.  He looked too thin to be lugging baskets and tools, but that was what he was doing, and the boy was helping.

A little boat rocked gently in the water nearby.

Around him other fishermen were also working: tending to their boats, loading and unloading, cleaning equipment.  The men returning from a day on the water and who had been lucky strutted proudly to the stalls at the end of the pier.  From time to time the sounds of engines and clatter and sea birds quieted enough that Angus could hear the virile strains of haggling at the stalls.  The men who argued best – or loudest – would eat well that evening, with their whole families.  The men who protested timidly, or who returned from the water empty handed, might not eat at all.

Angus watched the man and the boy.

From time to time they paused and looked up at the pier, to the marlin carcass hanging from a post.  Much of it had been eaten away, Angus guessed, by sharks as whoever had caught it towed it to shore.  It was a shame.  Judging by the size of the bones that remained, it had been an enormous fish, possibly the largest Angus had ever seen.  To have caught it would have been an impressive feat.  He wondered who had.

A man strode quickly across the sand now, to where the old man and the boy were working.  He spoke briefly to the boy, and the boy nodded his head and began to gather belongings.  The boy waved at the old man as he turned and walked away with his – what?  Angus thought the boy’s father had probably come to collect him.  Perhaps to begin their day’s work together.  The old man finished his work alone, climbed into his little boat, and began to row.

At first Angus thought he wouldn’t, couldn’t, make his spindly arms a match for the pounding surf, but the old man expertly guided his boat over and through the waves until he reached the calmer water.  Then he sat for a moment and took a drink of something.  As he put down his bottle he must have seen Angus watching him from the pier.  Their eyes met, even across that distance, and finally the old man raised his hand and waved.  Then he took up his oars again and went on rowing, until Angus could only barely make out the boat, a speck now against the water.

The sun beat down on both of them.  The hours passed.  The sun set on both of them.  They dreamed of lions.

*Characters “borrowed” from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

And that’s all for my tribute to Angus this month.  I hope you liked it.  Check out the October 2012 edition of the ABA Journal, wherein other people honor Professor McElhaney and Angus’ twenty-five year run.

I have not been working as diligently as I should on my legal haiku for this year’s ABA Ross Essay Contest.  I’ve spent about ten minutes on it, mostly trying to come up with the right image to convey.

Part of the problem is that I am not a fan of haiku in general, at least not as an English verse form.  English writers began trying to work with haiku in the mid-twentieth century and adopted the 5-7-5 syllable convention we still use today, even though it doesn’t really convey the effect of the form in Japanese.  Authentic Japanese haiku uses morae or on, which are phonetic sounds, not syllables.  A haiku in Japanese is therefore usually more stark than one in English.

Authentic haiku generally presents two vivid images superimposed against one another by means of a kireji, or cutting word.  The effect is sometimes that of a Zen-style koan, a concept Western-trained thinkers often struggle with.  We like things to fit together neatly and we like our loose ends tied up; we really don’t know what to do with the sound of one hand clapping, thank you very much.  Additionally, Japanese haiku employs a kigo, which is a word that corresponds with a season.  There is a long list of kigo: a certain word for rain signifies an autumn rain, for example, while another word means a summer rain and so on.  We simply don’t have that sort of rich linguistic tradition to draw on in English.

For these reasons, I believe the most successful English haiku are those that attempt the spirit of the haiku and ignore the 5-7-5 convention altogether.  Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro is one famous example:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
 

The imagery of the petals pressed wetly against a knotted branch is the essence of springtime.  Contrast that with the “apparition” of the faces sliding by as a train enters or departs the station.  And Pound uses sound masterfully here: the “a” sounds in apparition, faces, petals and black; the “o” in crowd and bough; the “e” in these and petals.  I love this poem.  But it is not, technically speaking, English language haiku because of the 5-7-5 rule.

This one, by Richard Wright, respects the syllabic rule and works beautifully:

Whitecaps on the bay;
A broken signboard banging
In the April wind.

It doesn’t achieve the shift in perception or understanding that haiku generally strives for, though.

My initial efforts at writing a legal haiku have not been promising, to say the very least.  It’s hard to find a good, concrete image from something as abstract as law.  I thought I was on to something when I started playing around with Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.  I figured Stevens was a lawyer and a blackbird is a natural for haiku.  What I got down on paper was:

The lawyer-poet’s
Essential fallacy
Thirteen ways of looking
 
At a policy.

Awful.  I know.  It was going to be a series of haiku building on that theme.  I suspect my first mistake was the theme itself, which isn’t visceral enough for haiku, and my second was trying to force the rhyme.  So I’m going back to the drawing board, although I think I might have the bones for something else there.  A lyric, maybe.

In any event, I am feeling a little discouraged, and so I have taken up my dog-eared copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.  I turn to one of the passages I highlighted in college and note with a smile – every time, without fail – just how much the yellow has faded.  These are the lines I’m holding on to today:

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.  To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

From Letters to a Young Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke (trans. M.D. Herter Norton) W.W. Norton & Co. (1962)

I believe I have the deep humility part down now, Herr Rilke.

Angus had been invited to attend the rehearsal of a play starring his old friend, Mr. Zuss. He arrived a few minutes after the appointed time and found the actors already on the stage. He took a seat in the middle of the mostly empty theater; as best as he could tell, only two other men were in the auditorium.

One of them sat in the row directly in front of him, a little to his right. He had tufts of scruffy white hair, a Van Dyke beard, and although his eyes were lively he had a haunted look about him. When Angus sat down he turned and nodded at him and Angus smiled and nodded back. They watched the play for thirty minutes or so until the third man, who was sitting a few rows away from the stage and was holding what looked like a copy of the script, called for a break. The actors headed off for coffee or to look over their lines for the next scene. The man with the script – Angus assumed he was the director – sat hunched over his papers making notes.

Mr. Zuss appeared at Angus’ arm then, holding two cups of coffee. He offered one to Angus.

“Thank you,” Angus said. “I didn’t know if you’d be able to see me out here or not, under the lights.”

“I couldn’t, from the stage,” said Mr. Zuss. “But I knew you’d be here.”

“Is that the director?” asked Angus, inclining his head forward toward the man with the script.

“The writer. Mr. Archibald MacLeish,” replied Mr. Zuss.

“I am enjoying it. It’s awfully sad, though.”

“Mr. MacLeish saw two world wars,” said Mr. Zuss. “Most of us will never see a city destroyed under bombing. Most of us – thank God – will never see something like Hiroshima. But all of us will know loss in some fashion. That’s what the play is about, the question of suffering. And ultimately the promise of hope.”

As they spoke the man in the next row turned to look at them. He seemed to be listening to their conversation but did not join it. Angus smiled at him again, trying to be cordial, but the man abruptly stood up and walked down to where Archibald MacLeish was sitting. He sat beside the writer, who reached out and rested his hand on the other man’s shoulder for just a moment before he returned to his script.

“Is he one of the actors as well?” asked Angus about the man with the white hair.

“You mean that fellow, the one who was just sitting here? Oh, no, he’s not one of the actors. But he’s one of Mr. MacLeish’s projects, I guess you could say.”

Someone yelled from the stage, “Places!” Mr. Zuss stood and walked down, pausing for a moment to say hello to the two men now sitting together several rows down. The rehearsal continued. Angus particularly liked the close of the play, when Sarah, J.B.’s wife, turned to him and said:

Blow on the coal of the heart.
The candles in churches are out.
The lights have gone out in the sky.
Blow on the coal of the heart
And we’ll see by and by.

He waited for his friend as the actors and stage hands began packing up. Finally he spotted Mr. Zuss, who was now wearing a long scarf wound around his neck several times, and a wooly looking fedora.

“You look like an actor now,” said Angus when he caught up with him.

“Oh, this?” said Mr. Zuss, pointing to the scarf. “It comes with the SAG card.” He smiled. “Shall we have some dinner?”

They left the theater and walked together down the crowded sidewalk. “I know a good place. It’s just a few blocks away.”

The air was turning a little chilly and the street lights lit up as they made their way.

“You never told me who the other man was, back there,” said Angus, who had his hands shoved into the pockets of his jacket. He thought he could smell wood smoke in the air.

“I’m surprised you didn’t recognize him. He was very famous once. Well, still is, I guess, though for the wrong reasons. That was Ezra Pound.”

“The poet?” Angus pulled up short.

“Oh, yes. The poet. And the former resident of St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital, and the former disseminator of fascist propaganda during the Second World War. You’ve heard of him then?”

“Of course. He said some unforgivable things. Not only about his country, but about innocent people. Hateful things.”

“He did. No one knew what to do with him after the war. And he’d gone pretty batty, you understand. When he was captured in Italy by American forces he was kept in a tiny cell for days. I’m not defending what he said, of course. But he was a troubled man. And when he was found unfit to stand trial he was committed to St. Elizabeth’s for twelve years.”

“You said that he was one of Mr. MacLeish’s projects.”

“He was. Ernest Hemingway got the ball rolling, but he was, after all, only a writer. MacLeish was a statesman. He had the necessary clout. Once he started pulling strings, it was a only matter of time before Pound was released.”

“Should he have been? After the things he was advocating for, during the war? After the things he said?”

“Pound’s doctors believed him to be insane but not violent. Keeping him confined was a punishment with no therapeutic purpose. Releasing him was probably a step towards healing after the war. Eventually, Pound repudiated the things he’d said. And the man wrote The Cantos. Everyone has some value, in my opinion.”

“It’s like what Sarah said to J.B.,” said Angus.

You wanted justice, didn’t you?
There isn’t any. There is only love.

“Here we are!” said Mr. Zuss as he opened the door of a canopied building. Angus ducked inside, grateful for the warmth and chattering noise within.

… to be continued ….

Of course, I’ve taken some liberties here. When Pound was released from St. Elizabeth’s in 1958, the same year that MacLeish’s play J.B. was awarded the Pulitzer, he traveled immediately to Italy and remained there for years. Pound continued to espouse his anti-Semitic and Fascist views at least privately for some time before he finally rejected them, calling himself a “moron” who “knew nothing.” Shortly before his eighty-seventh birthday, he composed a poem in which he rejected the sentiments he had expressed, somewhat horrifyingly, in Canto XLV (“Usura slayeth the child in the womb”). Pound remains an extraordinarily divisive and controversial figure in literature. Not everyone is convinced that he truly reformed. But his poems, especially “In a Station of the Metro,” appear regularly in anthologies and are taught in most American literature classes.

MacLeish, on the other hand, is my personal hero. I like to think that given the opportunity to sit beside a newly released Pound at a rehearsal of J.B., he would have placed his hand reassuringly on the broken man’s shoulders, as I have often seen criminal defense lawyers do for their clients at sentencing or before the reading of the verdict. I do think MacLeish would have done that. With the possible exception of “Ars Poetica,” which contains the famous exhortation that “[a] poem should not mean/But be”, MacLeish’s popularity has waned since he won three Pulitzer Prizes, a Tony Award, an Academy Award, a Bollingen Prize, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Several days later, Angus found himself seated in a Pullman car speeding away from New York. He had purchased a sandwich at the station and he unwrapped it now and ate. As he did, he watched a man make his way slowly through the car scanning the faces of the passengers, most of whom went on peaceably about their business.

But soon he paused and greeted a man sitting by the window who, before the interruption, had been reading a book. It was “The Way of All Flesh,” Angus noted, by Samuel Butler.

The man who had been walking exchanged a greeting with the seated man and accepted the invitation to sit beside him, gratefully it seemed. The train rocked and hummed, and Angus turned his attention to the farmland passing by. Then he fell asleep. He woke when the conductor laid his hand on his shoulder and said firmly, “Last stop. Zenith.”

Shaking off the remnants of his nap, Angus disembarked and began to walk through the busy station. Men in sleek business suits rushed by in every direction. Everyone seemed to have somewhere to get to, and quickly. It was a little overwhelming.

So when he noticed a bench against the far wall situated beneath a painting of Woodrow Wilson Angus made a beeline for it. Just as he began to sit down, another man joined him. He recognized him as the man who had been reading on the train.

“I noticed your book,” he said, nodding towards the novel in the man’s hands. “It’s been a few years since I read it, but I’ve always remembered the Pontifex family.”

“Yes, certainly. They’re not an easy family to forget, are they?” He smiled and held out his hand. “My name is Seneca Doane.”

“I am Angus – ” but just then a train whistle sounded. The people passing by walked faster. “What do you do, Mr. Doane?”

Doane replied that he was a lawyer and that he had recently stood for election as mayor of Zenith but lost. He shrugged his shoulders at that. “There will be other elections,” he said.

“Of course,” said Angus. “What sort of law do you practice?”

“Unions, mostly. Unions and labor. Hasn’t made me very popular in town, I’m afraid. The man you saw me talking with, back on the train? His name is George Babbitt. We were at college together, and honestly, you’d have expected him to have become the radical back then, and me the business tycoon. Quite the opposite has happened.”

“Interesting,” said Angus.

“I was asking him to help me with a little cause of mine. A local preacher has been coming in for abuse with, well, let’s call them the town stalwarts. They don’t care for change, and poor Beecher Ingram is the latest scapegoat. Babbitt is one of the stalwarts. I’ve asked him to speak to his pals on Ingram’s behalf.”

“And do you think he will?”

“I do. Babbitt’s not a bad man, he’s just not a thinking man. Something in him has changed lately, though. At least it seems so to me. Oh, he’ll never be a socialist.” At that Doane chuckled to himself. “But I think he’ll find it possible to tear itself away from the herd. In some small way, at least.”

“Not an easy thing to do,” Angus replied.

“No, it’s not, surely. But it is the principle our legal system is built upon, isn’t it? The notion that one man can find it within himself to do the right thing, to hold to a principle, even when eleven others might think differently. We depend on that man.”

Angus agreed. They sat quietly a little while.

And now the afternoon sunlight was fading. There were fewer people in the station and the newspaper stand was closing up for the day. Doane said that he was waiting for a friend who was to arrive on a later train. They said good-bye. Angus headed for the cab stand.

…to be continued ….

(apologies to Sinclair Lewis, author of Babbitt, from whom I have borrowed the town of Zenith, Seneca Doane, and George Babbitt)

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His books packed neatly into boxes, Angus quietly closed the door of his office behind him. He was a little tired. It had been a long day. Old friends and people he hadn’t spoken to in ages had been stopping by to shake his hand and wish him well.

Now Angus tucked his worn leather briefcase into the trunk of his car and climbed behind the wheel. Time for a new adventure. He smiled. And drove.

. . . And drove and drove, for some days, stopping only when he had to. One warm September afternoon he arrived in a small Southern town. It seemed as good a place as any to grab a bite to eat and a newspaper. The townsfolk were friendly. Men tipped their hats to him as he walked by, and the coffee at the little restaurant he found was good and hot.

After his meal, Angus thought he’d walk around a bit and stretch his legs. As he started he heard a school bell ring and suddenly the street was filled with children rushing home. Angus noticed a girl walking along slowly, kicking a rock down the street. At least he thought she was a girl. She had close-cropped hair and looked a little rough around the edges. Still, it was clear something was wrong. So he called out hello and waved.

The girl kept walking, looking down at her feet. Angus thought she hadn’t heard him, so he called again, louder this time, and added, “I beg your pardon. I’m afraid I’m lost. Might you know the way to Mobile?” He didn’t paste on a phony smile or do any of the silly things grown-ups do talking to children. Angus knew better than to condescend to anyone.

The girl – and he could see her face now, and was sure it was a girl – looked up at him and blinked hard, whether due to the sun overhead or tears he wasn’t sure. She shielded her eyes with her hand but it was still so bright and hot that she squinted. So did he, as a matter of fact.

“I’m sorry, mister, I sure don’t,” she said. And now it was obvious, because he could see two tear trails on her cheek. Just two though. She wasn’t a crybaby.

“Is there anything wrong?” he asked. “Can I do something to help?”

She looked doubtful. “You know Miss Caroline Fisher? My teacher?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t. I’m not from around here,” said Angus.

The girl gave him a hard look. “Well, I c’n tell that,” she said. “You don’t talk like us ’round here. But I never met Miss Caroline afore today either, so how’s I to know whether you know her or not?”

It was a valid point. Angus nodded.

“Anyway,” she said, “Miss Caroline says Atticus ain’t to teach me reading no more. When he ain’t never taught me anyways. I been reading for as long as I c’n remember.” Her face scrunched up just a little then, but she quickly regained her composure.

“Miss Caroline says I’m to tell Atticus not to teach me no more. And that he taught me wrong anyways. And I don’t want to tell him so.”

Angus thought he’d like a word with Miss Caroline sometime. But he also knew that the Miss Carolines never had any real power or say, once you got out of school and into the world. You could even feel sorry for all the Miss Carolines if the mood caught you right.

So he asked, “Who’s Atticus?”

“He’s my father.”

“I see,” he said. Angus thought for a bit. The girl waited in companionable silence.

“The first piece of advice I’m going to give you,” he said, “is to follow me over here, under the shade of this tree. There we are. Much better, don’t you think?”

She nodded very seriously.

“If you’re going to be giving advice on a hot day, you might just as well do it in the shade. Now. About the situation with your fa- with Atticus. Do you think he’ll be angry with you?”

“No.”

“With Miss Caroline?”

“No. Atticus don’t really get too angry.”

Angus thought he might like Atticus very much. It was a shame he couldn’t meet him.

“So what is it exactly you’re worried about, then?”

“I just don’t . . . I don’t want to say he done taught me wrong. It might hurt his feelings.”

Angus thought he liked this girl too. And that Atticus had done a fine job of teaching her, reading or not.

“Here is what I would suggest,” he said. “Go on home. Get yourself a little something to eat. Like standing in the shade instead of the sun, it’s better to do things when you’re not hungry than when you are. And when Atticus gets home, wait till he’s eaten supper, too, and had a rest. And then just tell him. I’m sure he’ll understand.”

The girl looked hopeful at first, then quickly doubtful.

“And how’n you know that, mister? You know Atticus?”

“I don’t,” said Angus, smiling. “But I know some like him, I think. And I believe he will understand.”

The girl nodded, and hugged her books close to her chest, and said, “I’d best be gettin’ home then.”

“Yes, I guess you’d better,” said Angus. He tipped his hat to her. “It has been a pleasure.”

And off she went. Angus walked on, hands in his pockets, whistling a little song.

. . .To be continued . . .

(with apologies to Miss Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, for borrowing Scout and Atticus here)

If you’re a lawyer who reads the ABA Journal, you know Angus.

I met him about twenty years ago, when my dad, who knew I was thinking about law school, gave me a subscription to the ABA Journal for Christmas one year.  It wasn’t the convertible I was hoping for, but ultimately I got a lot more mileage out of it.  (You like what I did there?)

This month Angus and his progenitor, Jim McElhaney, say good-bye after twenty-five years.  Wow.  That means I got in practically on the ground floor.

I have been wanting to pay tribute to Angus in my own small way, and because it seems to me that Angus has never had much of a life outside the little room from which he issues his wise words, I thought I would take him on a vacation.  In honor of his retirement, you see.  But Angus is a fictional character, and under the laws of physics and Strunk & White he can only travel to fictional locales.

I’m having fun with this.  I hope you do too.  And Professor McElhaney, if by some miracle of the Interwebs you ever get to read these, thanks.  It’s been twenty-five really good years.

Look for my first post tomorrow, wherein Angus will pay a visit to some fictional characters you will no doubt recognize.  More posts will follow for the rest of September.

Beannachd leat, Angus.

Today the American Bar Association’s online news site brings us a hard-hitting piece of journalism on . . . . women’s hair.

Well, not just any women’s hair, thank goodness. The ABA has not transformed overnight into an In Style knock off.

Yet.

In an article entitled, “Is Long Hair a Bad Choice for Older Career Women,” Debra Cassens Weiss suggests that women over forty who wear their hair long “are making a mistake.”

Admittedly Weiss is quoting from a post at The Careerist, an American Lawyer Media site featuring today, directly beneath the hair post, an article called “Corporate Lawyer Pens Cookbook About Weeds.” Weiss goes on to quote the author of The Careerist hair piece, writing that Hillary Clinton’s hair has been “growing like an unruly potted plant” and that she looks “haggard and rumpled.” According to Weiss, The Careerist spoke with “a California entertainment lawyer and a law firm consultant” for further information. The lawyer – who, for the love of God, should be outed and immediately shunned – said that for older women, “[e]ven if the hair is long, glossy, and well-maintained, the juxtaposition of aging or—to be politically correct—’mature’ facial features and youthful hairstyle doesn’t work[.]”

Yes, Weiss is only highlighting a post featured in another online publication. But Weiss is also writing for the American Bar Association. And she should know better.

I’d be less thoroughly pissed off if Weiss offered some response to this ludicrously vapid piece of reporting. Surely there is someone out there capable of offering a more reasoned commentary on the current Secretary of State for the United States than that her hair has gone vegetative. But if there is, the ABA is not interested in finding him or her. He or she will remain, alas, forever unquoted.

And I point this out because it follows rather closely on the heels of another, admittedly more local, journalistic gaffe here in Maryland. Last week, the local legal paper, The Maryland Daily Record, published a piece on its online blog, On The Record, which discussed opportunities for women on the bench. I can’t link to the article itself because it has been summarily pulled from the site in response to a wave of criticism from women lawyers and judges, and to the paper’s credit it has since apologized. The objectionable material included the use of a photo of the Spice Girls. I am fairly certain – but correct me if I’m wrong, certainly – that if United States Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm is formally elevated to the bench of the United States District Court for Maryland, the Daily Record will not illustrate its coverage of the event with a photograph of Justin Beiber.

I attended a bar association meeting recently and the Spice Girls conundrum was the topic of conversation in a way it really hasn’t been since Posh became Victoria Beckham. And one of the points I heard made repeatedly was that there is a real disconnect between older women lawyers and their younger, Gen Y counterparts when it comes to issues like these. The author of the Spice Girls post appears to be a member of the Gen Y camp. And she is not a lawyer, although she wrote her article under the Maryland Daily Record masthead, so presumably she had some oversight. I have heard some calling for “sensitivity training” for younger women, as if to be a woman demanding respectful treatment is to have a disability. Sensitivity isn’t really the issue. Real world experience, and familiarity with history, is.

Perhaps these younger women have never experienced the pleasure of appearing at opposing counsel’s office for a deposition, only to be invited to set up their court reporting equipment in the conference room. Or of being called “sweetheart” or “hon” (an old Baltimore favorite) or “babe.” But I worry that in fact they have, and that instead of being taken aback they take it in stride. As if being condescended to is a cost of doing business as a female.

Is it? Should it be?

Is there a point at which the members of a traditionally disadvantaged class are expected to put down their weapons – assuming they ever wielded any to begin with – and make nice? Is that what is happening here?

I contemplated closing this post with a reference to the Lady Gaga song, “Hair,” in which she chants repeatedly that she is “as free as [her] hair.” And that would be cute, possibly, and would give me the opportunity to include a Lady Gaga picture, which might just drive some traffic to this page. And screw that, because the willingness to do and say anything in the name of driving traffic is quite possibly a major part of the heretofore described disconnect. Attention is not self-justifying.

I sincerely hope that in the race to appear on the first page of Google, we are not sacrificing what we learned in other, older, and less virtual contexts.