Saturday, July 19, 2014

Jurisprudence Poems by Patrick Meighan

Poems by Patrick Meighan
Published by Patrick Meighan
27 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Justice for all happens only in the mythological worlds of professorial academics and children’s literature. Still, society values the idea of truth and fairness being weighed in some ideal system of due process. Observers of our courts, like poet Patrick Meighan, not only provide us with insight into this vital universe, but also act as a potential corrective of the most obvious flaws inherent in our real-world legal processes.

Meighan, a former court reporter, opens his modest 27 page collection with a bit of self-reference. He dedicates the book by making a damning point: “For the guilty… we are the guilty.” He’s right, of course, and in a very real way. Aside from a Catholic upbringing saturated with “original sin,” many of us do occasionally accelerate beyond a 55 mph highway speed limit. In addition, dear reader, there may very well be other laws, regulations, and/or commandments that you or I have transgressed on a singularly bad (or exhilarating) day. Let’s go with that assumption as I continue my review.

Showing some common sense, Meighan begins his poetical series with a piece of practical advice to would- be perpetrators in a poem entitled Criminal’s Creed. The poet says,

Nothing good comes of smart-ass ways.
Beat-downs are certain. Don’t look to courts
for vindication. It isn’t there. It’s nowhere.
Hold your peace. Say nothing in answer to
smirks from faces with dark-mirrored glasses.

Internal time keeping invents its own reality in Meighan’s poem called Scene in a courtroom conference room. A lawyer and his client ponder fate, future, and a possible plea under the watchful eyes of the bailiff. The second hand on the institutional clock struggles onward like a mountain hiker. Meighan conveys the tenseness,

…his fingers wrestling one with
another. From the attorney: pale words of
options, of give and take. Meanwhile, the slender
hiker ascends and descends a distant range
of passing minutes. Where would time go
when it’s full of too many minutes to count?
Leaving a vast dessert to walk. A horizon so small
it seems more to fade as one draws nearer.
The door clicks open, giving the bailiff a start.

Too much information can jade one’s view of criminal justice. A well- known appeals attorney, Alan Dershowitz, has postulated the existence of a School for Lying attended by generations of police officers.  Hyperbole aside, many defense attorneys do pass on horror stories of perfidious police avowals. In the piece One true bible, the poet gives us his own take, laced with not a little humor, on this subject. The poem opens this way,

On the shelves thick with dust
of every police academy
you’ll find a dog-eared manual—
passages highlighted,
scribbled notes
misspelled in margins—
to enlighten cops in the craft
of lying.
How to look suspects
coldly in the eye,
not blink, and cite
with confidence
statements made by
nonexistent witnesses.
Or refer to evidence
real only in forensics
labs on TV shows.
Once cops learn this dark craft,
confessions will gush.

Good poetry often provokes. Good poetry can also be brave, but very rarely is. Meighan shows us his brave side in Butter People, a poem dealing with the difficult matter of child molesters. He treads a sometimes very thin line, contrasting the evil behavior of men sodomizing children with other offenders who, convicted of relatively lesser offenses, share with the aforesaid monsters a lifelong fate. The poet keeps good balance through these lines,

Some are self-made
Janitor with hair
Slicked back who
Sodomized a child
Served 20 in the pen
Others thrust into
That hell—pimple-faced
Young man consensual
With a teen runaway
What of the drunk boy
Who raped a drunk girl
Two years younger
At a house party
He took advantage
Served eight months
In county lockup
Now counted among
The demonic his face
Crucified on paper
Circulated about for a dozen years
(On the internet for eternity)

Lest you think that this poet comes from a bleeding heart position with squishy feelings about rehabilitating hardened criminals make sure you read his poem Letter to a newspaper. In it he seems to create an apparent composite of letters (not uncommon I bet) sent to newspaper editors from nervy psychopaths complaining of minutia in the face of the blood curdling details of their respective cases. Here’s the heart—excuse my poor word choice—of Meighan’s poem,

… I left my high school
two years ago, not three, as your reporter wrote).

I do however like your objective writing
Unlike TV, you haven’t called me “monster,”
not even in editorializing. And every detail,
how I crept into their room at night
and slashed the mother’s throat, and left
the child for dead, as good as dead, from
the horror with which I forever stained
her mind…

Occasional black humor helps round the sharp edges of some of these narratives. In Meighan’s poem A Richards Hearing waiting to happen, the poet sets up a pretty funny dialogue between an experienced cop and a career criminal doubling as tell-tale rat. Here’s a few of the lines,

… He stiffed me once, so I shut him off.”

“Wait a minute. You say you were his dealer? Pot, or pills?”

A little of both, officer. Mainly pills. I can i.d. the prick for you
if you need me to.”

“I see. What the hell. Sure. Thanks for your help. Who knows
To what depths society might plunge without dutiful citizens like you.”

Meighan’s speaks to a blinded citizenry fearlessly and with intelligence. His poems in Jurisprudence demand nothing less than a recalibration of the scales of justice. And, kudos to him, it’s about time.

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