Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Way Forward for Pagan Prisoners

Blogger is apparently determined to behave in a completely erratic manner. Perhaps it will stay up long enough to let me share a few thoughts on McCollum v. CDCR, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 10971, (9th Cir., June 1, 2011). Warning: Some of this will be a little bit "law geeky" but I'll try to keep that to a minimum.

First, the lower court was ruling on a summary judgment motion. That's a motion that you make, generally before the trial starts, that asks the court to dismiss the complaint (and avoid the cost and trouble of a trial) because, even if the person complaining proved everything that they say they can prove, they still wouldn't be entitled to recover anything. In essence, they have no cause of action. The lower court agreed with CDCR that McCollum (and the prisoners suing with him) had no case. McCollum appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which agreed with the lower court. Primarily, as to McCollum, the Ninth Circuit held that he lacked standing on most of his claims and couldn't prevail on his others. And the prisoners had either failed to exhaust their claims, let too much time go by, or had dropped their claims so that the appeal could go forward.

So that's two strikes on this approach. But no court has really had a chance to rule on the merits of this case -- the actual issue of whether it comports with the Constitution and other laws for California to pay chaplains of some religions and not others. And, the real goal here is not to prove whether Rev. McCollum or any other specific person has standing to sue, but to get equal treatment for Pagan prisoners and chaplains. I'd hazard to say that Rev. McCollum would agree with me.

Let me say a little bit about standing. I've seen standing described in some blog posts and comments about this case as a "technicality." But standing is a bedrock foundation of our legal system. Most of our federal courts (including the Ninth Circuit) exist because Article III of our Constitution says:
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State;—between Citizens of different States;—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

Our system of limited governmental powers applies to Article III courts, as well as to the President and Congress. Article III courts can only adjudicate legal disputes in "Cases" or "Controversies." Thus, if a court simply doesn't like a law that Congress passes, it can't issue an "advisory opinion" and say what the court thinks is wrong with the law. It has to wait until litigants bring a proper suit over the law. As SCOTUS very recently explained in Camreta v. Greene, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4016 at *15 (2011):
To enforce this limitation [on courts' powers], we demand that litigants demonstrate a "personal stake" in the suit. The party invoking the Court's authority has such a stake when three conditions are satisfied: The petitioner must show that he has suffered an injury in fact that is caused by the conduct complained of and that will be redressed by a favorable decision. (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Standing is what stops your nosy neighbor from suing the neighborhood kids for trespassing because they walk across your lawn, when it's ok with you for the kids to do that. It's what keeps "activist" judges from issuing opinions outlawing abortion when no one has brought a suit before them. Yes, standing sometimes seems unfair. It prevents someone who cared enough about an issue to hire a lawyer, bring a suit, and pursue a case from having a day in court. But it's what keeps our tripartite system of government in balance; it's not a technicality.

At this point, McCollum and his lawyers have several choices. First, they can ask the same Ninth Circuit panel that issued this opinion to grant rehearing. That's, IMHO, a long shot in this case. (Rehearings are rarely granted, in any event.) If one judge had dissented, you'd figure that you only had to get one of the other judges to change hir mind. But there was no dissent here. Or, if the court had just gotten something factually or legally wrong (thought that the light was red when everyone in the case agreed that it was green, thought that the law said "X" when it really says "Not-X"), you might file for rehearing. You can do that and then, afterwards, go to the Supreme Court if you're still not happy, so it's not an either/or proposition. It's generally low risk, in that if the court denies the rehearing, they don't usually write another long opinion and give you 15 more reasons why you're wrong. But it's just not likely in this case. Similarly, McCollum can make a suggestion to the entire Ninth Circuit for a rehearing en banc, but that's probably even more unlikely. This issue just isn't interesting to enough of the judges on the Ninth Circuit. People often file both a request for rehearing and a suggestion for a rehearing en banc, so McCollum can do both.

Second, McCollum can ask the Supreme Court to hear his case (either after seeking rehearing or right now). The Supreme Court is unique, in that it doesn't have to hear any case and doesn't have to explain its reasons for not hearing a case. Lawyers call the process of asking SCOTUS to hear a case "seeking certiorari" or "cert." Rule 10 of SCOTUS' rules explains that the Court is most likely to accept a case when there's a split among the circuit courts -- for example, if the Ninth Circuit held "no standing," but the First and Third had held that there is standing in very similar cases -- or in cases of national importance (think, grrrr, Bush v. Gore). The key language from Rule 10 is:
A petition for a writ of certiorari is rarely granted when the asserted error consists of erroneous factual findings or the misapplication of a properly stated rule of law.

McCollum likely would be arguing that the Ninth Circuit misapplied a properly stated rule of law. So this case is unlikely to get cert.

I've seen some people say that SCOTUS won't grant cert. (guaranteed 100%, no how, no way!) in a case about standing, but that's incorrect. Just last week, SCOTUS issued an interesting Ninth Circuit standing case, Camreta v. Greene, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4016 (2011). But McCollum v. CDCR, unlike Camreta v. Greene, is pretty cut-and-dry standing stuff, and if there were a split among the circuits, I'd have expected that to be argued in briefs and dealt with in the Ninth Circuit's opinion. And prisoners' First Amendment rights, sadly, aren't considered issues of national importance.

Finally, I'd worry -- a lot -- about letting this SCOTUS, which recently held that the cross is a good enough religious symbol to memorialize soldiers of every religion, get ahold of this case and explain why a Catholic priest is good enough for every Pagan prisoner. (The court has only gotten more conservative since that opinion.) In other words, if they DID grant cert., it would be to work more mischief, not to help Pagans. Sometimes, you just have to be willing to quit while you're only so far behind.

So should McCollum just give up? I don't think so.

My reading of the opinion is that Judge Schroeder (a Carter appointee, placed on the panel when Judge Thompson died, so that this panel was composed of Judge Schroeder and Judge McKewon, another Carter appointee, and Judge Silverman, a Clinton appointee; you won't get a more sympathetic panel than that) was careful to lay out an eventual path to victory. No, it's not as emotionally satisfying as saying, "Fine! We'll go all the way to the Supreme Court!" but it's more likely to actually, you know, work. I hope that those willing to raise money, write letters, and do magic (raises hand!) for a run at SCOTUS will be willing to get behind this slower, more likely effort.

Here's what I think Judge Schroeder was saying. I'm referring to the "slip opinion" published at the Ninth Circuit's home page and that's where the page numbers that I'll refer to come from.

First, the Ninth Circuit rejected the notion that there is a "Five State-Sanctioned Faiths Policy," as argued by McCollum.* Rather, the court found that:
over time, the CDCR paid-chaplaincy program has evolved to include these five faiths. Officials indicate future evolution is envisioned by inmate needs. Slip op. at 7165.

We need to focus on that "future evolution" driven by "inmate needs."

The opinion goes on to note that paid chaplains were added for Muslim prisoners in 1981 and for Native Americans in 1989 due to "perceived inmate need" and a "consent decree". Id. at 7166. What led CRDC to "perceive a need" for a Muslim chaplain and what led to the consent decree re: Native Americans? How can McCollum and the rest of us make a case that Pagan prisoners are now similar to Muslims in 1981 and Native Americans in 1989?

The opinion cites the 5 factors that the CRDC says it will apply and these include "religious group size." (In 2002, there were 598 Wiccan prisoners and only 306 Jewish prisoners, but CRDC paid rabbis.) What can we show right now? Can we fit within the other factors, such as "alternative means of accommodation"? It's one thing to say that a Lutheran minister can oversee a Methodist Sunday service; it's got to be easier to show that a Catholic priest, whose religion holds that one may not "suffer a Witch to live," can't effectively supervise a prisoner-led Wiccan Samhein ritual.

Then, at slip op. 7169-70, there's a discussion about why the claims of the prisoners, themselves, as opposed to McCollum, were either not fully exhausted or were time-barred. "Exhaustion" is (oh, yes, in more ways than one) a legal term. It means, for example, that you can't, generally, run right to the Supreme Court with your complaint. You have to start at the lowest level and only work your way up if you can't get relief below. For prisoners, this includes filing a complaint with the prison and giving the prison notice of the specific relief -- here, a paid Wiccan chaplain -- that you want. You've got to explain why a paid chaplain, rather than a volunteer one, is necessary. As the opinion hints, Mr. Collins, a prisoner, did that. He wanted a visit in hospital from a Wiccan chaplain, but was told that he couldn't have one because his "chaplain was not a regular paid chaplain at San Quentin, i.e., not Christian/Protestant/Catholic, Muslim, or Native American." Id. at 7169. The problem was that Collins made this complaint a long time ago, and our laws impose time limitations; you can't sit on your case for years and then sue on it. It's not fair to the other side, which may have lost evidence that they'd have saved if they'd known you were going to sue.

But here's where, IMHO, Judge Schroeder sets out a clear path that shows how to build a successful case. Pagans need to request visits from Pagan chaplains (in hospital, when they are concerned about their family members, before appeals and other trials, etc.) and document that they get denied because their chaplains are not "regular paid chaplains." They'll probably also have to accept a visit from, say, a Catholic priest who counsels them about the evils of Witchcraft and then show why that didn't work for them, because CDCR's policy seems to envision paid chaplains ministering to prisoners outside their religions when necessary. And then, with the help of McCollum and those willing to raise funds and do magic, etc., they'll have to pursue their claims in a timely manner.

This is the work of a number of years. It's not nearly as likely to sustain long-term Pagan interest as, say, a run at SCOTUS, which, as I've noted above, is, at best, a pipe dream and, at worst, a way to have this temporary loss turned into a complete and total loss that applies nationwide and not just to California. But it's how civil rights have always been won. Thurgood Marshall laid out a long-term, multi-year, incremental route to Brown v. Board of Education. And he won.

I'll say what I've said before. I'm grateful to Rev. McCollum and his able pro bono (that means: unpaid, even in these difficult economic times) counsel at Jones Day for standing up for Pagans. Thanks to them, we've now got a Ninth Circuit opinion that lays out a clear path to eventual victory. It's never fun (oh, no, trust me, it's not) to lose an appeal. These cases take a lot out of you, and you pour everything you've got into them. You show up, do your best, argue before really brilliant judges, and, sometimes (damn it!), you lose. It hurts. A lot. And then, if you're really committed to a cause, or if you're just an honest-to-Goddess advocate all the way down to your marrow, you sober up, say a few more bad words, kick some dust, and figure out how to move forward. You go back, re-read that painful opinion, see what's to be done, dust off your suit, light incense to Ma'at, and get back in the game, in the most sensible and likely-to-succeed manner possible.

That's what I hope that the Pagan community can do here.

Because this fight, like the fight for Wiccan veterans, matters. For all of us.

*For the love of the Goddess, can we quit saying "faith" when we mean "religion"? Paganism isn't a "faith," it's (probably) an umbrella term for various religions, just as "Christianity" is an umbrella term for various religions such as Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, and Satanists.

Picture found here.


Update: Several commenters make very good points about the use of the word "Wiccan" in the Ninth Circuit opinion, as opposed to "Pagan." The court said that it was adopting the terminology from McCollum's brief. I don't know, but my guess is that there were two things going on. One is that there's a word limit on briefs, and so people often select one word and note early on that, when they use it, they mean all of a group of things. Hence, "Wiccan" for Druids, Asatru, Reconstructionists, etc. The second thing that I suspect may have been going on was that Wicca tends to be, more and more these days, and especially since the victory over veterans' tombstones, recognized by the outside world as a "real" religion, while "Pagan" is likely to be perceived as a looser term. My understanding is that McCollum is a Wiccan and the thought was likely that the court would recognize Wicca as a "real" religion and, hence, entitled to paid chaplains.

Also, markarios asks about volunteer chaplains. And if the prison system were to, for example, in cases similar to Collins', allow volunteer Pagan chaplains to visit prisoners in the hospital, the prisoners would have a more difficult time showing that they needed to be visited by paid chaplains, although I can think of some reasons why that might matter. In Collins' case, he was sick in the hospital and denied any Pagan chaplain because there were no paid Pagan chaplains, and that's a pretty good, sympathetic case to take up on appeal in a timely manner. There's also some indication that volunteer chaplains have to be supervised by the paid chaplains, and I can think of instances when that could interfere with the prisoners' rights and, again, be worth running up on appeal.

I've revised the rest of the posting in minor ways for clarity.

(I should add, these are my own thoughts, not intended as legal advice, and do not represent the views of anyone else.)

Friday, June 03, 2011

A Poem for Our Time

Blogger is having, as we used to say, "issues," so if posting is a bit light for the next few days, it's not only because G/Son and I are busy going to the farmers' market, reading about how Arthur became the king, blowing bubbles, visiting the nature center, climing on the jungle gym at the park near Nonna's house, playing knights in armour, picking herbs, and coloring with our 84 crayons, but because of said issues.

In the meantime, have a poem:

The End of Science Fiction
By Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.

Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.

The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.

Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Litha's Coming

I woke up this morning aware that we're only a few weeks out from Litha, the longest day of the year. Here in my corner of the myth-crammed MidAtlantic, the period from Yule to Imbolc seems very long, and then, from Imbolc until Beltane, although things speed up, it seems as if I still spend much of the time looking, hoping, dreaming, wishing: focused on every tiny sign of Spring, turning the appearance of a single snowdrop or a haze of green on the bleached-bone frames of the beech trees into a cause for celebration. And then, ABRACADABRA, it's here and time seems to speed by.

It's likely my Swedish ancestors dancing the spiral dance in my DNA, but I have to admit that I love, best of all, these long, long, long sunlit days. In Sweden, I read once, no one sleeps when the sun near the Arctic Circle stay up in the sky all day. People have late picnics in the woods and gather berries and get in boats to row across to Denmark to get beer. I don't really care whether or not it's "factual"; in my cosmology, it's "true" and I've picked those berries and rowed those boats often and often sitting at my altar or knitting sweaters in the dark of deep Winter. Something about Litha connects me deeply to that place where "I've" never been.

This time of year is, as well, an amazing time to just sit out in the evening and enjoy the garden. The voodoo lilies are just finishing up. The magnolias that worried me so and over which I did so much magic are in bloom, an embarrassment of lemon, vanilla, and gloss. The herbs are almost out of control. The Dutch iris have replaced the bearded iris. The astilbe is a white, lacy froth of abundance; the gardenias are still going strong, and the day lilies have giant buds that will open any day now. I should have lilies -- Casa Blanca and Adios Nonino -- in a few more days.

Soon, too soon, the days will start to get a bit shorter, but the daisies and black-eyed susans will show up, the sunflowers will exult, and the purple obedient flowers will make the bees and hummingbirds happy.

And then, and then, but, no, I'm not going to go there -- yet.

For now, I'm going to sit in my twilit garden, smell the magnolias and gardenias, listen to the birds, watch the wisteria bushes creep towards each other on the top of the garden shed, and store all of this up. It's an old magic that I do, creating the ability to get myself through those hard-as-iron February days when I've seen nothing blooming for months and I know that I still have a ways to go. I'll release them the way you release any spell from the magic bottle into which you crammed and stoppered it, set aside for when it's needed.

I shan't be gone long. You come, too.

Picture found here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

First of the Month Bazooms Blogging

Ladies! Listen up! Detecting breast cancer early is the key to surviving it! Breast Self Exams (BSEs) can help you to detect breast cancer in its earlier stages. So, on the first of every month, give yourself a breast self-exam. It's easy to do. Here's how. If you prefer to do your BSE at a particular time in your cycle, calendar it now. But, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And, once a year, get yourself a mammogram. Mammograms cost between $150 and $300. If you have to take a temp job one weekend a year, if you have to sell something on e-Bay, if you have to go cash in all the change in various jars all over the house, if you have to work the holiday season wrapping gifts at Macy's, for the love of the Goddess, please go get a mammogram once a year.

Or: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pays all or some of the cost of breast cancer screening services through its National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This program provides mammograms and breast exams by a health professional to low-income, underinsured, and underserved women in all 50 states, six U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and 14 American Indian/Alaska Native organizations. For more information, contact your state health department or call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.

I know that a recent study indicated that early detection via breast self exams might not be "cost effective." I'm not a scientist, but when I read those studies, they appear to be saying that sometimes women find a lump during the BSE that turns out not to be cancer. Those women have caused some expense and have gone through some discomfort in order to find out that the lump wasn't cancer. I don't know about you, but when that happens to me, as it has a few times since my first mammogram found a small, curable, cancerous lump, I go out and buy a new scarf, take myself out for a decadent lunch, call everyone I know, and declare it a good day.

Send me an email after you get your mammogram and I will do an annual free tarot reading for you. Just, please, examine your own breasts once a month and get your sweet, round ass to a mammogram once a year. If you have a deck, pick three cards and e-mail me at heca tedemet ersdat ter@ hotm ail.c om. I'll email you back your reading. If you don't have a deck, go to Lunea's tarot listed on the right-hand side in my blog links. Pick three cards from her free, on-line tarot and email me. I'll email you back your reading.

Out of My System

Something deliciously funny and madly ironic happened today and OVER and OVER I typed the snarky email I wanted to send and, then, I deleted it.

With my Ascendent in Gemini, you can't imagine how much Will-with-a capital-W that took.

All of that work with Fire must be paying off. ;)

May it be so for you.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are to arrive today.

Why such inaction in the Senate?
Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
What laws can the Senators pass any more?
When the barbarians come they will make the laws.

Why did our emperor wake up so early,
and sits at the greatest gate of the city,
on the throne, solemn, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.
And the emperor waits to receive
their chief. Indeed he has prepared
to give him a scroll. Therein he inscribed
many titles and names of honor.

Why have our two consuls and the praetors come out
today in their red, embroidered togas;
why do they wear amethyst-studded bracelets,
and rings with brilliant, glittering emeralds;
why are they carrying costly canes today,
wonderfully carved with silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today,
and such things dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't the worthy orators come as always
to make their speeches, to have their say?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today;
and they get bored with eloquence and orations.

Why all of a sudden this unrest
and confusion. (How solemn the faces have become).
Why are the streets and squares clearing quickly,
and all return to their homes, so deep in thought?

Because night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
and said that there are no longer any barbarians.

And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

~Constantine P. Cavafy

Picture found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

i sing of Olaf glad and big

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel (trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms (first knocking on the head
him )do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf (being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf (upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president, being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ (of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

~E. E. Cummings

Picture found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

--Wilfred Owen

Picture found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

Carentan O Carentan
Trees in the old days used to stand
And shape a shady lane
Where lovers wandered hand in hand
Who came from Carentan.

This was the shining green canal
Where we came two by two
Walking at combat-interval.
Such trees we never knew.

The day was early June, the ground
Was soft and bright with dew.
Far away the guns did sound,
But here the sky was blue.

The sky was blue, but there a smoke
Hung still above the sea
Where the ships together spoke
To towns we could not see.

Could you have seen us through a glass
You would have said a walk
Of farmers out to turn the grass,
Each with his own hay-fork.

The watchers in their leopard suits
Waited till it was time,
And aimed between the belt and boot
And let the barrel climb.

I must lie down at once, there is
A hammer at my knee.
And call it death or cowardice,
Don’t count again on me.

Everything’s all right, Mother,
Everyone gets the same
At one time or another.
It’s all in the game.

I never strolled, nor ever shall,
Down such a leafy lane.
I never drank in a canal,
Nor ever shall again.

There is a whistling in the leaves
And it is not the wind,
The twigs are falling from the knives
That cut men to the ground.

Tell me, Master-Sergeant,
The way to turn and shoot.
But the Sergeant’s silent
That taught me how to do it.

O Captain, show us quickly
Our place upon the map.
But the Captain’s sickly
And taking a long nap.

Lieutenant, what’s my duty,
My place in the platoon?
He too’s a sleeping beauty,
Charmed by that strange tune.

Carentan O Carentan
Before we met with you
We never yet had lost a man
Or known what death could do.

Picture found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

A Reminiscence
YES, thou art gone! and never more
Thy sunny smile shall gladden me;
But I may pass the old church door,
And pace the floor that covers thee.

May stand upon the cold, damp stone,
And think that, frozen, lies below
The lightest heart that I have known,
The kindest I shall ever know.

Yet, though I cannot see thee more,
'Tis still a comfort to have seen;
And though thy transient life is o'er,
'Tis sweet to think that thou hast been;

To think a soul so near divine,
Within a form so angel fair,
United to a heart like thine,
Has gladdened once our humble sphere.

Picture found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

The War in the Air
For a saving grace, we didn't see our dead,
Who rarely bothered coming home to die
But simply stayed away out there
In the clean war, the war in the air.

Seldom the ghosts come back bearing their tales
Of hitting the earth, the incompressible sea,
But stayed up there in the relative wind,
Shades fading in the mind,

Who had no graves but only epitaphs
Where never so many spoke for never so few:
Per ardua, said the partisans of Mars,
Per aspera, to the stars.

That was the good war, the war we won
As if there was no death, for goodness's sake.
With the help of the losers we left out there
In the air, in the empty air.

Picture (of the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington, VA) found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

The Performance
The last time I saw Donald Armstrong
He was staggering oddly off into the sun,
Going down, off the Philippine Islands.
I let my shovel fall, and put that hand
Above my eyes, and moved some way to one side
That his body might pass through the sun,

And I saw how well he was not
Standing there on his hands,
On his spindle-shanked forearms balanced,
Unbalanced, with his big feet looming and waving
In the great, untrustworthy air
He flew in each night, when it darkened.

Dust fanned in scraped puffs from the earth
Between his arms, and blood turned his face inside out,
To demonstrate its suppleness
Of veins, as he perfected his role.
Next day, he toppled his head off
On an island beach to the south,

And the enemy’s two-handed sword
Did not fall from anyone’s hands
At that miraculous sight,
As the head rolled over upon
Its wide-eyed face, and fell
Into the inadequate grave

He had dug for himself, under pressure.
Yet I put my flat hand to my eyebrows
Months later, to see him again
In the sun, when I learned how he died,
And imagined him, there,
Come, judged, before his small captors,

Doing all his lean tricks to amaze them—
The back somersault, the kip-up—
And at last, the stand on his hands,
Perfect, with his feet together,
His head down, evenly breathing,
As the sun poured from the sea

And the headsman broke down
In a blaze of tears, in that light
Of the thin, long human frame
Upside down in its own strange joy,
And, if some other one had not told him,
Would have cut off the feet

Instead of the head,
And if Armstrong had not presently risen
In kingly, round-shouldered attendance,
And then knelt down in himself
Beside his hacked, glittering grave, having done
All things in this life that he could.

Picture found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

Mother and Poet
Dead ! One of them shot by the sea in the east,
And one of them shot in the west by the sea.
Dead ! both my boys ! When you sit at the feast
And are wanting a great song for Italy free,
Let none look at me !

Yet I was a poetess only last year,
And good at my art, for a woman, men said ;
But this woman, this, who is agonized here,
— The east sea and west sea rhyme on in her head
For ever instead.

What art can a woman be good at ? Oh, vain !
What art is she good at, but hurting her breast
With the milk-teeth of babes, and a smile at the pain ?
Ah boys, how you hurt ! you were strong as you pressed,
And I proud, by that test.

What art's for a woman ? To hold on her knees
Both darlings ! to feel all their arms round her throat,
Cling, strangle a little ! to sew by degrees
And 'broider the long-clothes and neat little coat ;
To dream and to doat.

To teach them ... It stings there ! I made them indeed
Speak plain the word country. I taught them, no doubt,
That a country's a thing men should die for at need.
I prated of liberty, rights, and about
The tyrant cast out.

And when their eyes flashed ... O my beautiful eyes ! ...
I exulted ; nay, let them go forth at the wheels
Of the guns, and denied not. But then the surprise
When one sits quite alone ! Then one weeps, then one kneels !
God, how the house feels !

At first, happy news came, in gay letters moiled
With my kisses, — of camp-life and glory, and how
They both loved me ; and, soon coming home to be spoiled
In return would fan off every fly from my brow
With their green laurel-bough.

Then was triumph at Turin : Ancona was free !'
And some one came out of the cheers in the street,
With a face pale as stone, to say something to me.
My Guido was dead ! I fell down at his feet,
While they cheered in the street.

I bore it ; friends soothed me ; my grief looked sublime
As the ransom of Italy. One boy remained
To be leant on and walked with, recalling the time
When the first grew immortal, while both of us strained
To the height he had gained.

And letters still came, shorter, sadder, more strong,
Writ now but in one hand, I was not to faint, —
One loved me for two — would be with me ere long :
And Viva l' Italia ! — he died for, our saint,
Who forbids our complaint."

My Nanni would add, he was safe, and aware
Of a presence that turned off the balls, — was imprest
It was Guido himself, who knew what I could bear,
And how 'twas impossible, quite dispossessed,
To live on for the rest."

On which, without pause, up the telegraph line
Swept smoothly the next news from Gaeta : — Shot.
Tell his mother. Ah, ah, his, ' their ' mother, — not mine, '
No voice says "My mother" again to me. What !
You think Guido forgot ?

Are souls straight so happy that, dizzy with Heaven,
They drop earth's affections, conceive not of woe ?
I think not. Themselves were too lately forgiven
Through THAT Love and Sorrow which reconciled so
The Above and Below.

O Christ of the five wounds, who look'dst through the dark
To the face of Thy mother ! consider, I pray,
How we common mothers stand desolate, mark,
Whose sons, not being Christs, die with eyes turned away,
And no last word to say !

Both boys dead ? but that's out of nature. We all
Have been patriots, yet each house must always keep one.
'Twere imbecile, hewing out roads to a wall ;
And, when Italy 's made, for what end is it done
If we have not a son ?

Ah, ah, ah ! when Gaeta's taken, what then ?
When the fair wicked queen sits no more at her sport
Of the fire-balls of death crashing souls out of men ?
When the guns of Cavalli with final retort
Have cut the game short ?

When Venice and Rome keep their new jubilee,
When your flag takes all heaven for its white, green, and red,
When you have your country from mountain to sea,
When King Victor has Italy's crown on his head,
(And I have my Dead) —

What then ? Do not mock me. Ah, ring your bells low,
And burn your lights faintly ! My country is there,
Above the star pricked by the last peak of snow :
My Italy 's THERE, with my brave civic Pair,
To disfranchise despair !

Forgive me. Some women bear children in strength,
And bite back the cry of their pain in self-scorn ;
But the birth-pangs of nations will wring us at length
Into wail such as this — and we sit on forlorn
When the man-child is born.

Dead ! One of them shot by the sea in the east,
And one of them shot in the west by the sea.
Both ! both my boys ! If in keeping the feast
You want a great song for your Italy free,
Let none look at me !

Picture found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

For a War Memorial

The hucksters haggle in the mart
The cars and carts go by;
Senates and schools go droning on;
For dead things cannot die.

A storm stooped on the place of tombs
With bolts to blast and rive;
But these be names of many men
The lightning found alive.

If usurers rule and rights decay
And visions view once more
Great Carthage like a golden shell
Gape hollow on the shore,

Still to the last of crumbling time
Upon this stone be read
How many men of England died
To prove they were not dead.

Picture (of an ancient English warrior) found here.

Memorial Day Poetry Blogging

Tommy by Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

Picture found here.