From Prose and Poetry

The End of Gabriel’s Tale

Read the beginning of Gabriel’s tale.


Gabriel, the Civil Rights Lawyer’s Tale

III. The Appeal

“At Ed Johnson’s father’s behest,
Two black lawyers took his request
Parden knew they would be threatened
His prosperous practice destroyed.
But Parden was a Christian man,
He prayed to his God for wisdom.
Pardon agreed to bear the cross,
It did not matter what the cost.


If it meant his violent demise,
The lawyer would not compromise.
When the attorneys tried to file
A motion for a new trial,
Judge McReynolds demanded they wait.
The next day the judge said they were too late.
The judge tried to block their appeal,

By disparaging their zeal,
Their arrogance to think they knew
As much as the white man in his view.
But the lawyers filed an appeal,
Refusing to buckle and kneel.
The state high court upheld the court’s decisions
So to the federal court they petitioned.
Charging due process violations.
Enshrined in U.S. Constitution.

Ed had rights to a trial that was fair,
Not one held in an inflamed air.
A mob tried to attack the jail,
The trial court in its role did fail.
Lawyers had no time to prepare,
The trial venue was unfair,
Non-white jurors were excluded,
Judge and prosecutor colluded.


Ed Johnson was forced to confess
By torture and under duress.
The temper of a juror flared,
A mistrial should have been declared.
Here on earth the laws made by men.
Are only as good as the men.
Parden’s home was threatened with fire.
Thugs sprayed his house with gunfire.

People – black and white – saw Ed Johnson
Well wishers whose hearts he had won.
Those friends were the children of God,
And a trickle became a flood.
Two days before the date of his death,
Ed was given one last request.
He asked to attend church service.
To thank the Lord for His good grace.

Three hundred made the pilgrimage to jail.
Even in jail God’s love prevails
The courtyard of the jail was filled,
Into the lobby the believers spilled.
The special congregation sang hymns,
Read biblical scriptures and psalms.
After singing the Sweet Bye and Bye,
Ed declared “I’m ready to die.”

Young Ed Johnson had been transformed
By his faith in God, he was reborn
All his hatred was swept away
Tomorrow would be judgment day.
He asked that Miss Taylor be healed
That the Lord’s love be revealed.
We are all the children of God.
He had faith in the power of God.

He denied he was guilty again.
He repeated “I am not that man.”
At service end, he was baptized.
And by his faith his soul was saved.
By purity of righteous heart,
He would enter the narrow gate.

The federal judge denied their petition,
Citing lack of federal jurisdiction.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was made,
Powerful forces came to their aid.
Their voices were heard from on high.
Justice Harlan listened with an open mind.
The astute hand of providence
Gave Ed Johnson a final chance.

The great dissenter stayed execution.
To decide Ed’s rights under the Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case.
And its specified time and place.”

IV. The Lynch Mob

“But injustice would blight the land.
Public officials had other plans.
Upon receipt of the high court order,
Sheriff Shipp stripped the jail of jailers.
And moved all the other prisoners,
Leaving Ed to the murderers
Hundreds of townsfolk stormed the jail,
Bent on seeing mob justice prevail.

Judge McReynolds watched from the courthouse,
As the mob descended upon the jailhouse,
Sheriff Shipp abandoned his post.
Ignoring his duty to the utmost.
Police officers led the violent mob,
Law and order supposedly their job.
A white minister called the police.
Demanding a stop to the mob’s caprice.

His lone voice in the wilderness.
An unanswered plea for justice.
The mob led the lone defendant
In a procession malevolent,
The lynch mob seemed to go berserk,
And lynched Ed Johnson on the trestlework
Of the Walnut Street Bridge
Ed kept his dignity to the end.

Johnson proclaimed his innocence
Blessed his enemies’ insolence.
For two minutes, his legs danced in the air
As the mobs and onlookers stared.
Vigilantes began shooting.
A bullet cut the rope, his body falling,
Ed was still moving but nearly dead.
One man shot five bullets into his head.

An old black woman waded through the crowd.
“Is he dead, white folks?” she said aloud.
When a man said yes, she eyed with a dare,
In defiant reply, she said “Well, I swear.”
As she turned her back and left from the line,
One man pinned on Ed’s corpse, a sign.
“Justice Harlan, get your n****r now.”
Such was their insidious vow.

A police man from the crowd there.
Cut off Ed’s finger as a souvenir.
A fitting end to these sad events.
Monsters who sought to harm the man,
Could not touch good Ed Johnson’s soul
For good are raised up, evil brought low.
The finger of justice was beckoning,
There would be a day of reckoning.”


V. Judgment Day


“The Supreme Court began its investigation,
Into the city’s depredations.
Federal agents descended.
Laid charges against those that offended.
Twenty-four men were arrested.
Sheriff Shipp’s guilt was suggested.
Sheriff Shipp was in contempt of court
Shipp and six others were thrown in prison.

Public officials across the country
Could not give free reign to bigotry.
In future Supreme Court decisions,
Our Bill of Rights protections

Were incorporated into the 14th Amendment,
And applied to local governments.
Though Styles Hutchins and Noah Parden,
Never practiced law again,
Their courageous fight was a victory,
That changed the course of history.

Progress requires we take a step backward,
Before we can move forward.
These two courageous men,
Fought for justice with voice and pen,
They faded into obscurity
Leaving behind a lasting legacy.

There may be things as miracles,
I have never seen them in any court.
Justice is administered by men.
The aspirations of a nation
Where the people are sovereign,
Depend upon its citizens.
Euclid said there is no royal road to geometry.
The same could be said for justice in a democracy.

Progress oftentimes comes at a price.
Someone somewhere must make a sacrifice.
Cry if you must, shout if you will,
Then wipe away your tears.
Summon your courage.
And begin again.”


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II: Gabriel, The Civil Rights Lawyer’s Tale

by Mark Kodama

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew Chapter 5:10

The time is always right to do what is right.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kingdom of Heaven

I. The Arrest

It was Nineteen Hundred ought Six.
Old Chattanooga seemed transfixed,
By a sudden New Year crime wave
Amidst an election campaign.
The city, ‘neath clouds of silver,
Astride the great Tennessee River.
Beneath its slow surface waters,
Turbulent undertows did stir.

Ed Johnson, a black handyman,
Was lynched for raping a white woman.
In the Old South, a crime more vile,
Than mob killings without fair trials.
Due process and fairness were lost.
A scapegoat must be found at all costs,
Those in charge decreed a sacrifice
On the altar of political expedience.

On January Twenty-Third at the switchback,
Nevada Taylor was attacked.
A young black man followed her home,
Shadowed her as she walked alone.
Around her soft neck this man did wrap
A tightened darkened leather strap.
In this lonely vicinity,
This thug stole the girl’s virginity.

Sheriff Shipp and the doctor were called,
Blacks and whites alike were appalled,
The newspapers demanded retribution.

Passion took the place of reason
For this was the political season
A handsome reward was offered
For information that was proffered,
For arrest of the guilty man.

A man claimed to be a witness,
A man of questionable fitness
The witness placed Ed Johnson there.
Claiming to know him by his stare.
He said he saw Johnson with the strap,
An innocent man had to take the rap.
While a guilty psychopath ranged free
In the terrorized river city.

An angry lynch mob jeered and railed,
Outside the Hamilton County jail,
Judge Samuel D. McReynolds did coerce,
The lawless vigilantes to disperse.
Judge McReynolds understood,
The lynch mob wanted blood
The judge knew the crowd wanted it

So he was ready to deliver it.
Sheriff Shipp did interrogate,
Tried to force Ed to self-incriminate.
Sheriff Shipp bragged to reporters,
He would break Johnson in short order.
Johnson was starved, struck, kicked and hit,
But the man refused to admit.
Nevada Taylor was brought to jail,
Her identification could not fail.

The Constitution they overthrew
Johnson was picked from the lineup of two.
“Johnson Is a Fiend,” screamed the headlines.
“He is surely guilty,” a newspaper opined.
The District Attorney did argue,
To the Grand Jury for its review,
The Grand Jury issued its indictment,
At the height of public excitement.

It was a tyranny of the majority,
The weakness of a democracy.

II. The Trial

Trial was set for Sixth of February,
Amid the irrational fury,
Twelve days after his arrest,
Ed Johnson’s show trial began
To pin the crime on an innocent man
To satisfy the public’s blood lust.
Ed Johnson’s guilt was a must.
Three lawyers were quickly selected.
Ed‘s due process rights went unprotected.

Neighbors ostracized the lawyers,
Threatened harm to their families.
The Mayor, Judge and D.A. met alone,
With Ed’s lawyers who wished to postpone.
They requested another venue, another date,
Judge McReynolds ruled the trial could not wait.

The courtroom, packed with an angry crowd,
Eager to fit Ed in his death shroud,
The D.A.’s r witness lied under oath,
Claiming Ed was near the outgrowth.
Miss Taylor’s own story was unclear,
For Johnson’s identity was in doubt.
Miss Taylor passed out during the attack,
The assailant assaulted her from the back.

Many witnesses did testified,
Ed Johnson was sweeping inside,
The Last Chance Saloon at the time,
Of the wanton and vicious crime.
“If I could get at him,” a juror said, “I would,
Tear his heart out now,” he said as he stood.
By morning all agreed on the verdict,
All twelve jurors voted to convict.

The Judge said Johnson did the crime,
Then praised the jurors for their time.
The Judge then sentenced Ed Johnson,
To hang until his life had run.
Ed Johnson said he was going to die
For a crime of another because of lies.
“May God have mercy on your soul,”
The judge said, playing his scripted role.

Two of Ed’s lawyers voted to appeal.
The third lawyer said his fate was sealed.
So the judge appointed three more lawyers.
To change the vote and to defer
So the three new attorneys
Voted against an appeal.
But from the dark pit of despair,
In a desolate place where

When all hope appeared to be lost,
Two men emerged to pay the cost.
Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins
Stepped into the history books,
With great dangers they undertook.
To represent Ed in his appeal
Offering a glimmer of hope
To the desperate, friendless man.


Gabriel, The Civil Rights Lawyer’s Tale

by Mark Kodama


Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from the Birmingham Jail

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw

Prologue:

The Advocate

Gabriel, a civil rights lawyer, gazed out the window. His brown face wore an easy confident smile. His black leather suitcase carried his file for a case he had in Las Vegas. A gold cross pendant hung from his neck and lay against his black turtleneck sweater. His black mirrored sunglasses hid his eyes. He wore a gray flannel suit without a tie.

Bus Driver: Let us listen to stories of heroes,
And their solitary quests for justice.
Of moral men of law courageous.
Their fights against their racist foes,
And the bitter harvest bigotry sows.

Nelson Mandela and Thurgood Marshall,
Lincoln and Cicero, great lawyers all,
Gandhi and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP
Lawyers are central to our being free.
Oh, fair voiced Calliope,
Favor us with epic poetry.”

Gabriel: Because of their high positions
But not their competence,
They made wrong decisions,
With absolute confidence.
To acquiesce to it,
Is to accept it.

I’m a trial lawyer with little renown,
I take cases, most mundane, some profound.
I do well but I am not a fount of gold
The meaning of my work is of most import I’m told.
I cannot win every case I must confess;

But I’m clever, work hard and do my best.
My enemies are smart and work hard too.
It would be easy if they weren’t shooting at you.
I know the local judges, lawyers and rules.
I survived the intellectual hazing of law school.

If you do not know the rules of evidence,
Your client may have a dire consequence.
When trying your case, present it with style.

Be friendly but serious and wear a confident smile.
Present your opening and closing emotionally
And appeal to the jurors logically.
Ethos, pathos and logos are our tools of the trade,
The rules of rhetoric that Aristotle made.
The great Roman lawyer Cicero used to say:
Movere, docere and delectare.

Be a master of rhetoric,
An expert in courtroom politics,
Speak to jurors in words they understand
With the lofty ideas of leaders grand.
Be a student of the mind
And someone that cares,
And I think you will find
You will have a certain flair.

Laws are made and enforced by men
And it is up to them to administer them.
And it is up to men you see,
To make justice a reality.
Justice is only an idea,
That must be fought for.”


I am From Train Tracks and Busy Streets

by Vivian


I am from train tracks and busy streets.

From motorcycles rides through the city and instant noodles,
The tofu on the streets that caused a round stomach – a baby so pure and so innocent.

I am from red velvet slippers and jumping rope in the courtyard.
From the big, mean girls who never let anyone play with their toys,
Their leader climbing up the stairs to the yellow slide after me, anger – infused face.

The slow-motion face plant as I hit the ground, leading to the broken arm in a cast.

I am from middle school “glo-ups” and makeup bags.
There’s always a first time for everything, baby girl not so innocent anymore.

From highlights to lipsticks, eye-shadow to contour.
The first pebble of insecurity, now towering like mountains.

I am from the stress tearing me apart between good grades or popularity.

“You need to do better. Universities look at this, you know?”
“Be cute, be hard to get, be confident. But watch out for Mackenzie.”
Those small little slip – ups that seem like the end of the world but actually aren’t.

I am from Gingham, Juno, and Lark.

The perfect filter – maybe X – Pro Valencia – or how ‘bout Skyline? Nah, #Nofilter.

Having to capture the perfect meal, posing with the perfect body, living the perfect Instagram life.

The staged smile on the girl holding plastic flowers pretending to be happy. No, no! I don’t want to be her!

I am from Grey’s Anatomy and Disney movies.
To grow up and help the needy, to cure diseases, to advise medicine.
To escape with the rose, flee with two glass slippers, and not kiss the frog.

Wanting to be my own woman, to do something better for the world, without Prince Charming.

I am from the fascinating world of medicine.
To witness the very first breath to the last dying breath, not just once, but a million.

That “tears and smiles” moment in life when joy and pain are seen together, holding hands.

To experience a miracle of a lifetime, or to mourn beside a deathbed.

I am from greatness and failure.
I still have a lot to learn, with many mistakes and failure along the way.

Embarking on a journey to find the meaning of life, every moment leading from:

I am from train tracks and busy streets.


Las Vegas Tales VIV

Bill DeSelms II
The Newspaper Reporter Prologue: The Business

by Mark Kodama


My first job was the police beat.
That’s where you either sink or swim.
I remember I once covered
A search and rescue launched
for a missing woman and child.

A few days later they found their bodies.
I was so angry
Those incompetents.
I didn’t want my story to end like that.
Dick White said “Kid, don’t take things so personally.”

Last week, a woman had a fight here with her husband.
She took her two small children with her into the desert.
They found her five-year-old boy about five miles from here.
He was dead.
They found her body with the infant a mile away.
Twenty years later, the same story, the same ending.

My next job was at UPI,
Covering Governor Romney in Lansing.
We were always smaller than AP.
After press conferences, we would race to get our stories out.
AP had a reporter.
He drank heavily, but boy could he write.
I dropped him at his house once.
It was in a nice neighborhood.
And his was the only yard unkept.
In his house, he had closets and closets
Full of shoes.
He ran over a kid.
Killed him.

After that he would never
Let his wife out of his house.
Once we were covering a Michigan state football game,
After the game, he stood over me as I was finishing my story.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” he said.
His eyes were wide and saliva dripped from his mouth.
His hands began to shake.

After I sent my story, we rushed to the bar.
When we were served our beers, he gulped down his.
Such a look of relief came over his face.
He grabbed the waitress and said “Wow, look at those tits.”
I thought “Boy.” Ten year later there I was.

Once I interviewed Richard Nixon at the airport.
It was after he lost to John Kennedy.
One of Johnson’s men had been caught
In a public bathroom with another man.
When I asked him about it,
He hunched over and began to hunker down.

My biggest scoop was about a scandal
At the National Guard.
After a year, I went to work as a flack.
When I went to see my former friends at UPI,
I learned right away I was no longer one of them.
Wow. I was no longer part of the business.

My life in public relations was a bore
But it paid me better than the business.
I got married and we had a daughter.
But it was the sixties.
You know freedom riders, civil rights
Vietnam and assassinations.
And of course free love.

One time my little daughter Marguerite
Saw me on the television.
She asked me how I got so small.
At that time, the revolution was coming.
Well, it came and went.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
I started drinking and fooling around.
One time, Marguerite caught me
In the bedroom with another woman.
I kept telling her “I was not that kind of guy!”
When I was married, my wife would always nag me.

The funny thing is when you are alone its worse:
Nobody cares.
I drank and I drank and then lost my job.
And then I lived on the streets.
Finally I had a heart attack.
As they wheeled me in to surgery,
I prayed to God for another chance.

Well, I gave up drinking and women.
I joined alcoholics anonymous.
I started a garden.
Have you ever planted seeds
And then watch them grow?
If you don’t believe in God,
Raise a garden then decide.

My wife bought me a car and new clothes.
And then I returned to do what I loved best:
Working in the business.
I got a job at the Columbus Dispatch.
And afterwards, came out west.

And now here I am.
I once met a lawyer.
After I wrote a story,
He said I misquoted him.
He then said I made grammatical errors.
So I asked whether he was a literary critic too.

That’s what I like about the business,
We always get the last word.
My poem is about the business,
Freedom of the press,
And the First Amendment,
About the very best
In a great tradition.


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Las Vegas Tales VIII

Bill DeSelms I
The Newspaper Reporter Prologue: The Business

by Mark Kodama

 


What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If
men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern
men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

James Madison


Two movie houses, one closed, and four restaurants lined Main Street. We pulled
into a restaurant bar called Sauce and Pepper, next to the House of the Seven Lepers, for a soda, quick lunch and gas.

Dylan, a balding portly man, was the barkeep
He claimed four day jobs and to never sleep.
He was a little middle-aged man about yea high.
Sporting an awful sweater and an even worse tie.
He claimed two Ph.Ds and a law degree;
And two rich girlfriends of whom no one ever sees.

The first was a Danish fairy tale heiress
The second, a blond Russian mob princess,
Dylan said: “When her thug husband threatened me
I responded by demanding that he should flee.
I put my finger in his face ‘Do you think I am afraid of you?
I used to wrestle in high school.’

“I told my two lovers: ‘I know I’m worth it but please no strife.
Resolve your differences in a tete a tete.
To decide what part of me each one gets.’”
I said: “‘Sorry for my sangfroid;
But might I suggest a ménage a trois.’
Marriage is not in my DNA, not in my bones
Like my namesake said: ‘I’m a rolling stone.’”

We moved from the bar into the shaded courtyard. There was a small stage in
the corner. The musician set up on the stage and began playing “Norwegian Wood” on his
acoustic guitar.

At a table in the small courtyard, a thin, dapper middle-aged man with a craggy
face and short gray hair sat alone in a booth. He wore a freshly pressed dress shirt with a
frayed collar and old tie. A book was on the table: Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My
Lovely. He ordered “an unsweetened ice tea with a twist of lemon.” He was eating lunch
with a shaggy red-haired photographer with a goat beard named Fred.

We asked him his name. He was Bill DeSelms, a newspaper reporter from the paper, the Desert Dispatch. He said he covered city hall, about a mile away, on the hill,
up the street. In the distance was a massive rail yard.

Bill suggested the tuna melt or perhaps the breakfast burrito. I ordered the tuna
melt with French fries and an ice tea with a twist of lemon.

We asked them to join our small company. They agreed.


My name is Bill DeSelms,
No, I am not the editor,
I am just a reporter,
You know “Jus’ the facts Mam”
That’s me.

Boy, I love the business.
How did I get here?
How did I not get here?
This is California, man.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York.
My mother was French Canadian.
She used to tell me in French:
“I love you, I adore you,
You are all mine.”

Never met my father.
He was a mustang in the Marines Corps.
That’s a Marine who rose through ranks
To become an officer.
He was killed at Iwo Jima
In ’45, trying to take Mount Suribachi.
He is buried at the Punch Bowl in Hawaii.
I am gonna to see him some day.

I joined the Marines myself when I came of age.
Spent my time on search and destroy missions in the Philippines.
Surprised? Yes, we burned villages looking for communists.
You don’t believe me?
Well, as we say in the business,
Never let the facts get in the way
Of a good story.

I was busted down for pulling a knife on a redneck cracker.
He was from Louisiana
He talked like he had shit in his mouth.
When I got out of the Corps,
I got a job at the Cheyenne Eagle.
Dick White was the City Editor.
Dick was also from the Corps.
He used to tell me I was just made for the business.
He also taught me the finer things.
Dick liked literature and things like the Opera.
I used to think that was sissy shit.

But afterwards it made me think
‘Well, maybe there was something to this.’
Dick White was a real man, an educated man.
Once he took me to see Billie Holiday.
I told her, “Hey, you sing pretty good.”
At the time, I did not know who she was.

When I first worked for the Eagle,
I had to write an obit.
When I misspelled the dead man’s name,
Dick White took me aside.
He said, “Look, people keep these things
In their family Bible.
Besides, you don’t want to lose your job.”


Continue reading this poem, here.

For Princess Miah

by Mark Kodama


I am a ballerina dancing in the sky,
Looking down at my audience from on high.
I rule from a castle at the edge of the woods,
Where the house of Hansel and Gretel once stood.

I have one thousand and one peppermint soldiers,
Who follow my each and every order.
Pirates, sharks and ruffians beware,
I will throw you in jail if you dare.

I love to eat chocolate ice cream bears,
And pepperoni pizza served in squares,
And drink root beer vanilla floats,
While swimming in my castle moat.

My dad and mom think they know more than me,
But little do they know, I’m the queen bee.
Uncle Mark, I would like to stay but I must go
My dad and mom are here and I love them so.