Poetry in Motion

A corpse was carted down Main Street of Langtry, Texas, and deposited at the steps of the Jersey Lilly Saloon and Court House. The judge stepped through the swinging doors and banged his Colt .45 like a gavel against a whiskey barrel.

“Hear ye, hear ye, court’s now in session!”
He pointed to the dead body and asked one of the spectators what had happened.

“The bridge collapsed on him, yer’onner.”

The judge snorted and craned his crooked neck to examine the still-warm corpse.
“What’s the defendant got in his pockets?”

A quick search turned up $40 and a pistol.
The judge cleared his throat and began, “It is the judgment of this court that you are hereby tried and convicted of illegally and unlawfully committing certain grave offenses against the peace and dignity of the State of Texas, particularly in my bailiwick. $40 payable to the court and confiscation of the illegal weapon, next case!”

Aristotle put forth in his Poetics that poetry was ultimately more important than history, myth more important than fact, because within it spiritual and moral truths could be found. These are truths that inform and define, upon which cultures and societies depend for their continued identity.
Going by this philosophy and since official records weren’t actually kept by the Justice of the Peace in Precinct 6, Pecos County, we can feel morally safe in asserting that it occurred on February 25, 1883. Accurate or not, the legends surrounding such bold and larger than life characters like Judge Roy Bean contributed to the American ethos, that exceptional identity which propelled the expanding nation through a next half-century that had much of the rest of the world reeling from amnesia. It would take but a few more years before America began to show its own symptoms.



Sergeant Jenkins was in a state of near-panic and he’d already sucked down a six-pack before he even began patrol. His First Cavalry Division was being asked to make riskier and riskier missions into the Demilitarized Zone each week. If the North Koreans were the only threat, he might have handled it better but there were rumors now that his unit was going to soon be sent off to that expanding nightmare they called Vietnam.

When he reenlisted, he hadn’t counted on that. He just wanted to be home now. Back in North Carolina. He had to find some way to get back there. Any way.
Each swallow of beer from that point onward fueled the frantic conversation going on his brain. Finally, he decided he couldn’t argue with a crazy mind; tonight would be the night. But he kept drinking to make sure his brain wouldn’t back out the way his knees were trying to.

He popped  open his tenth beer and he led a four-man team into the forest 2,000 yards from the Military Demarcation Line. Their route was to take them within 500 yards of the line before turning to parallel it, looking and listening for “gook” activity. As they made the turn, Sergeant Jenkins raised his hand and halted his men.
“I heard something… stay here while I check it out.”

He walked through the trees and disappeared.
It was a very surprised North Korean soldier that found him with his white t-shirt tied to his M-14.

Charles Robert Jenkins’ (not-well-thought-out) plan of finding his way to Moscow and being traded back to America in a prisoner exchange didn’t exactly pan out. After *Deserting While Intoxicated, he wouldn’t be permitted to leave the communist utopia of North Korea until July 9, 2004, almost 40 years later.


"This Man is Not a Nut"

On December 15, 1943, a single B-25 Mitchell approached an isolated Japanese village carrying a special payload, one that could strike terror in the hearts of every man, woman, and child; a payload that could potentially save a hundred thousand American lives; a payload that could eventually end the war.

The bomber kept at a cruising speed of 230 mph, flying at 5,000’. This particular plane was not made for the low and terrible strafing runs that her sisters in the Solomon’s were to become famous for. She had no guns or rockets and carried no torpedoes but just below its twin 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engines were a pair of odd looking bombs. Each was about 5’ long and punctuated with dozens of little vents.
When the plane reached its target, the navigator released the bombs. They fell like any other bomb until they reached an altitude of 1000’. And then they opened, and ten little crates popped out of the shell, each crate releasing a small parachute that slowed their descent.  As they floated gently downward, a thousand Mexican free-tail bats escaped from them and flew off towards the Japanese village, tucking themselves into hard to reach corners and eaves of the highly-flammable paper and wood structures. Thirty minutes later, the timers went off and the kerosene incendiaries they carried around their necks ignited. The entire village was engulfed in flames within minutes.

This secret project, which took place at a replica Japanese village in a Utah army base, had all begun at the suggestion of Eleanor Roosevelt’s dentist, Lytle Adams. Her husband, the President, gave it the go-ahead in a memo to the Army with a qualifier describing the dentist: “This man is NOT a nut.
The Bat Bomb was eventually scrapped in favor of the nuclear option.


Reach Out and Touch Someone

A small dust devil formed as heat from the ground flew up like a chimney into the morning cool. It danced its way between a maze of greasewoods, erasing the little path of letter J’s left by a sidewinder rattler in search of prey the night before. The Kangaroo Rat that had escaped from the rattler was just closing the entrance to its burrow in hopes of a morning of promiscuity with a few of the many females hiding below when the dust devil caught it by surprise. The wind was strong enough to send it tumbling out a few feet into the open ground.

As the vortex dissipated, a red-tail hawk flew overhead. The exposed rodent had just opened its eyes when he saw the talons of the raptor inches away. He jumped and the claws closed only on air. He hopped again and again to avoid being eaten, randomly, like a locust, and he finally landed in some cheat grass at the base of a gangly teddy bear cholla.
The cactus wren inside the cholla was not pleased and began its characteristic complaining. The Kangaroo Rat scrambled out, hopped marvelously again and hid behind a Joshua tree near the base of a cinder cone that had been mined out 50 years ago.

And so it usually went, variations on this quiet theme since time immemorial, with little disturbance here in the high desert. In the middle of nowhere, with nature taking its course.
And then, one morning, a telephone rang and the silence was broken.

The next morning, it rang again.
And it rang for 24 days.

On the 25th day, June 20, 1997, it rang again. This time, someone answered it.

The legend of the most remote telephone booth in America, the Mojave Phone Booth, had begun.


God Save Us All From Good Intentions

More than a thousand years of floods and the successive lootings and pickings for other construction projects had left the once spectacular mortuary temple of Amenhotep III little more than a pile of stones. All that was left intact were the twin colossi, each 60’ tall, which stood lonely guard at the entrance of the ruins. For the most part, the statues were ignored. Compared to the remaining structures at the Theban acropolis, and the temple complexes of Luxor and Karnak across the Nile, it was a rather unremarkable eyesore.

And then, sometime around February 5th, 27 BC it became remarkable again. A small earthquake struck Egypt. It did little damage to the southern statue but it cut the northern twin off at the waist and left a deep crack through its base. Soon after, the statue became… ”talkative.”
It didn’t always speak, but when it did, it would always be at sunrise. And though it sounded more like the plucking of a lyre string than a voice, word spread across the empire of the amazing vocal statue. Strabo, Pausanias, and Pliny all attested to its wonder. By the time that Emperor Septimius Severus arrived in 199 AD, the statue already had over a hundred bits of Greek and Latin graffiti carved into it.

Severus had been advised to curry favor with the statue by his wife, Julia Domna, the high-priestess of the temple of Elagabalus, the Syrian sun-god. When it didn’t speak for him, he assumed the damaged condition of the statue to be the reason. So he ordered his soldiers to “repair” it and five rows of stone blocks were stacked upon it. It’s been mute ever since.

Art history is replete with the destructive effect of good intentions, and gods, whether Amenhotep or Jesus, are not immune.