Composition: A Poem

Let’s say I was painting a page with words/ They must come from somewhere/ I see them flash to the screen by magic

For the brain may signal to the fingers/ To move on the keyboard/ But the many-lobed organ holds no words

The heart may relish the verse that appears/ But it can be cold, too/ And doesn’t connect to the ten fingers

It must be therefore that the hands’ digits/ Themselves create the poem/ One haphazard letter, then another

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We Are In Danger

The hatred-mongers of ISIS have certainly advanced their strategy of destabilizing the United States. That becomes clear when we see our fellow citizens berate all Muslims as “terrorists,” as happened recently at a hearing on construction of an Islamic Center in Virginia. But the bigots have been given permission to vent their hatred by people such as the leading candidate for the Republic presidential nomination. Is there any real difference between (1) his suggestion that mosques be closed down and that torture be used against America’s “enemies” and (2) the anti-Semitism and violence of the nascent Nazi party? If we are not afraid of the possibility that this Republican candidate will bring the reincarnation of Nazism into this country via the next election, we should be.

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Junior Partner

Wipe that silly grin off your face, because this is serious; plan your closing argument before you do anything else; practice in front of a mirror, looking directly into the jurors’ eyes; modulate your voice, because you don’t want to put everyone to sleep; pause for dramatic effect; make them anticipate what you’re about to say, then spring the point on them in a sharp, memorable way; stay well hydrated, but don’t drink too much water just before court starts; keep your mind on what’s happening in front of you, not your need to visit the rest room; but I can’t plan a closing argument when I don’t even know all the facts yet; develop all the graphics yourself; don’t rely on the so-called artists who’ve never stood up in front of a jury; use Power Point but not too much; when you sit at counsel table, keep everything well organized, not like the haphazard disarray in front of the plaintiff’s lawyer; remind your team that everything that happens in a courtroom is evidence; make sure your shoes are highly shined with the shoelaces not excessively long, because you don’t want them to catch under the wheel of your chair; wear blue ties if you think most of your jurors are Democrats, red if Republican, and switch off every day if you have no clue; ignore what the jury consultant tells you, because they’re wrong more often than they’re right, and you know that the psychologists are the ones who couldn’t get into med school; but why do we hire them in that case?; this is how to carefully set up a cross-examination notebook so that you can be spontaneous; this is how to fake sincerity; this is how to sit in the war room when court is not in session, so that your subordinates feel you are one of them, but keep your earphones on and listen to Leonard Bernstein and the Beatles so you don’t hear everyone chatting; this is how to ignore e-mails from your partners who want to micromanage your case; this is how to prepare a daily report for the clients so they can prepare a daily report to their bosses who have to submit a daily report to the CEO; this is how to preserve deniability; this is how to make the judge seem like an idiot as well as a tyrant, and don’t worry because everyone will believe you; this is how to talk to your wife every morning so as not to make her fear for your sanity; but what if the trial is going poorly, I’m not getting enough sleep, my insides are twisted, and I feel I’m about to pass out?; — you are not the junior partner anymore, you know, because I’m out of here, so take charge and be a leader — this is how you take a Valium to stop your hands from shaking and your voice from cracking; this is how you use propranolol to subdue your high blood pressure and get the green look off your face; this is how you pace the hallway as you pull yourself together; this is how you pray; this is how you wipe that silly grin off your face. (with thanks to Jamaica Kinkaid’s “Girl”)

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Let’s say I was painting a page with words

They must come from somewhere

I see them flash to the screen by magic


For the brain may signal the fingers

To move over the keyboard

But the brain holds no words


The heart may care what shows up in the verse

But it may be cold, too,

And doesn’t connect to those flying digits


It must be therefore that the ten of them

Themselves create the poem

One haphazard letter and another

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Between Two Worlds

The world I left when I retired is that of the law firm and the practice of law. In litigation, the kind of law I practiced, it was a world of massive war, campaigns, battles, skirmishes, and preparation for all of the above. It was a war of dueling, lawyer against lawyer in the courtroom, slashing, head-butting, eluding, persuading, keeping alert at all times, and intuiting the best time for each maneuver. Object too soon, and the point may be dulled or disappear. Object too late, and the damage to one’s side becomes irreparable.  Ask one question too few, and the point is not driven home. Ask one question too many, and hear the worst possible answer. It was all about leading the team, learning how to marshal troops, and having everyone in the ranks marching to the same beat and with the highest morale. It’s a career requiring calmness in the midst of turmoil. You trial lawyers out there know exactly what I mean.

The world I’m approaching is that of the graduate program in creative writing at American University, a world I know so far only through its website and my imagination. I am still nine days away from starting this new life. But – because of the writing conferences I’ve attended and the workshops in which I’ve participated – I can anticipate much of what’s coming: reading until my eyes pop out of head; thinking about literature in a way I haven’t thought about it since college, if ever; writing and more writing to try to improve my ability; and taking criticism of the highest level I will ever receive. To have ended my first career in search of the benefits of this second life was no haphazard decision. I will likely not know until the passage of three academic years if my full expectations have been satisfied. But I can see many parallels: preparation, adjustment, persuasion, story-telling.

Between these worlds – the first ending months ago for all practical purposes and the second still ahead – lies limbo. Or maybe a better analogy is Janus, in Roman mythology the god of beginnings and transition. He has one head that faces the past and one head that faces the future. I have just one head, period, so must twist my neck 180 degrees to achieve the same effect.

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Reflections on 40 Years as a Lawyer

So last night my retirement became official, and I turn my career objectives from lawyering to writing. Twelve hours is hardly enough time for me to know how this will all turn out, but at this point, I can at least look back and feel great satisfaction from my years as a lawyer.  It’s funny, but like a lot of people who ended up going into law, it was never my lifelong goal.  Law was something I fell into when I realized I wouldn’t be a scientist. Nonetheless, I couldn’t have fallen into a better profession.  Here are some of the many high points of my career:

  1. Clerking for the Hon. John Minor Wisdom, Judge, United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, in the year immediately following graduation from law school. A great judge, a great, courageous gentleman and mentor. I will always miss him. I still have happy dreams when I’m back in his chambers.
  1. Trial in Tampa – (about which I’ve written an eponymous screenplay and non-fiction honorable-mention winning essay), when as a neophyte second-chair in federal court I took care of six migrant farm workers cum witnesses in a successful prosecution of slavery charges against two farm labor contractors.
  1. Galveston, TX six-week trial defending Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. against claims of four plaintiffs relating to Parlodel and happily ending up with a complete defense verdict, apparently surprising everyone.
  1. Having inspired the board game “You Dirty Rat” – an invention of a plaintiff unhappy with my having thwarted his frivolous claims.
  1. Managing to tie myself by my shoelace – inadvertently – to my chair in the middle of a trial, unable to stand to make objections, but able finally to secure scissors and snip my way to freedom before the judge or the jury noticed.
  1. Many more exciting and fulfilling moments too numerous to mention today.

I was privileged throughout my career to work with outstanding, dedicated people who taught me a tremendous amount, set examples of diligence and perseverance, and made these past 40 years a wonderful, magical journey.

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The Truth Cannot Be Avoided

Here’s a question that Indiana Governor Mike Pence could not answer:  “If a florist refuses to sell flowers for a gay wedding on religious grounds, is that refusal allowed by the new law?”  He was repeatedly asked for a yes or no answer, but would not even address the hypothetical.  Doesn’t that tell you immediately he knows the true answer is “yes”?

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