Posted by: John Looker | 19 July, 2013

Brought Down

.

Brought Down

Facing the judge: the dock.
Within, a succession of occupants: lobsters
held behind glass waiting the tongs,

many no doubt descended
from an established line of crustaceans.
Not all however, not all.

Some are birds: swallows
who plummeted
from their swooping soaring flightpaths,

netted perhaps or shot,
or broken on branches and wires
that in their haste they had not seen.

These are the egoists, the chancers,
the casual benders of rules,
the ones who had thought they could live

in the unnoticed gap
between true
and magnetic north.

And we, members of the jury, each
with our own misleading compass,
sit here shoulder to shoulder, and ponder.

.

© John Stevens 2013

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Responses

  1. Simple (ostensibly), clean lines, with most interesting choices of masculine and feminine rhythms, and so much comes to mind…from moralities of food, agnosticsm, judgement, to questions of polar reversal and a coming-soon armageddon….great poem, John, say I, a small friendly voice from the wilderness somewhere near the 43rd parallel…

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    • I’m glad that you liked it, Cynthia; very glad indeed.

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  2. I very much like the concept of somewhere in the in-between true and magnetic North… A fine write, indeed.

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  3. great poem John. My compass has directed me into many an unseen obstacle.

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  4. any chance inspired by the daily news?

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    • As a matter of fact, no … but I see why you ask. The initial spur came from doing jury service a few months back.

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      • ahhh

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        • You might be interested in the comment which followed yours, from Ina in the Netherlands.

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  5. Hi John,
    wow that is a great poem and your comment to yeoldefoole gives an insight to the making. Doing jury service, I never realised that the UK has that too like the US. To be in that postion, to judge with consequences… What was it like?

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    • It’s an interesting experience, Ina, but not a particularly agreeable one. The jurors I met took their responsibilities very seriously, but many found the court somewhat awe-inspiring, and its processes very strange. I could write volumes – but I won’t!

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      • Ahhh. Then there are the consequences of repeated requests from one’s employer to be excused from jury service. I’ve just received my 5th summons in 8 months. Each time they excuse me they promptly send another summons with the previous service period doubled. As it stands, they’re calling for 16 weeks of my time away from work. There’s plenty of advice about what to do if your employer gives you a hard time for taking jury duty, but nothing about what to do if the sheriff performs an insidious form of obsessive-compulsive harassment upon you for being fully employed.

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  6. ‘The casual bender of rules.’ My, one could write a book about this phrase.
    ‘The unnoticed gap between true and magnetic north’. Okay, two books.
    They’re perfect images (insofar as any get to perfection—but this poem is about perfection, isn’t it?), for of course the difference between true north and magnetic north is not unnoticed, is it, and while it seems to select a group who think they’re smarter than we are, in fact it may just select us all… No? Okay those of you who have never given yourself a little break on that diet, raise your pudgy little hands. There’s an old Zen adage that says when you practice Buddhism you should ‘Do the best you can.’ Sounds good…what else can you do? But wait, when was the last time you really did anything ‘the best that you can?’
    And that ‘bend’…it rather bends things too doesn’t it? Sitting in that dock you want to be careful. Did you break that ‘rule’, or did you not? That’s for the judge to decide—or is it the jury? Perhaps Your Honor will explain this point to the jury. ‘Bend’ is such a pleasant word.
    There is a nice evolution here from lobsters to sparrows to, well… us. We all know how lobsters are cooked, right? See Samuel Beckett’s story ‘Dante and the Lobster’ for the definitive treatment. What is that verse from the Bible about the sparrow? Isn’t our ‘father’ supposed to know about it when even one falls? Just who is being judged here? Are birds and lobsters really ‘egoists’? No. At least it would sadden me to think so. We know perfectly well who the bluffers are on the planet.
    ‘Brought Down’ brings up a nice little moral problem: Let ye who is without sin cast the first stone, eh? Judge not lest you be judged…fine moral sentiments—and yet we spend a good part of our waking hours judging our neighbors, friends, relatives—in fact, we think the whole lot are a bunch of causal rule benders.
    This is a lovely poem, John. It seems rather simple—as they say, deceptively simple—but it poses a nice ethical problem, and does not rush to solve it. The Platonic model of knowledge is based around recovering/ remembering what we already know. (Those forms) Of course, modern science has convincingly shown this not to work for some things—well, a lot of things—but ‘Brought Down’ serves as a good reminder that that Platonic model isn’t entirely irrelevant.
    And besides, I had no idea they put lobsters on trial in Great Britain. Pass me the butter sauce, please

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    • That’s very interesting. I like that old Zen adage, Jim, which is certainly new to me but, yes, it is very apposite here. And so too is your discussion of ‘bending’ versus ‘breaking’ rules, and your reminder of the first-stone story. I must hunt down Samuel Beckett on the lobster – or perhaps on Dante. You’ve really expanded on this little poem and given me plenty to think about for my sins … thank you!

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  7. I will forgo my usual atomic criticism this time to venture something I keep feeling as I reread it: the first four stanzas have an archaic universality. Insights the only response to which can be compassion. We are all lobsters. We are all hapless birds, capable of flight, but there are always disabling circumstances. Pessimistic is too shallow a word for this poem, the balance of which seems to be an attempt to weaken the universal vision through allegory, as if just renaming things could alter the truth.

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    • You’ve sent me back to reread my own lines, Tom. ‘Archaic universality’ – I pleased if that comes through. Your further comments are thought-provoking and instructive; I’m sitting shoulder to shoulder with you to ponder.

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  8. Lovely, attentively observed images. As it did for many other commenters, the line:
    “in the unnoticed gap
    between true
    and magnetic north.”
    really sings.
    My first impression was of a hunting party, huddled shoulder to shoulder in the fishing boat, duck- or deer-blind. Multi-faceted, these images continue to shift and bloom with multiple readings.
    Thank you.

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    • Thank you for those impressions, Bonnie – it’s a pleasure to think about them.

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  9. a very strong write, John!

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  10. Occasionally, when I have nothing better to do, I ponder on what I would be if I were an animal.

    Most usually the answer is a Teddy Bear.
    But I suspect you have defined me better as a swallow!! 🙂

    Terrific poem

    David

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    • Hmm … I don’t think a Teddy Bear is an animal, David. Back to your school books! That aside, thank you!

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  11. John, it is always rewarding to read your poems and comments, too. I enjoy how the poem recognizes the misleading compasses even in the judges and jury. Justice often feels so inhuman and cold, elevated and distant, but here in this poem it feels softer and lower. It makes me ask the question, “Who or what was brought down?” NIce.

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