The Man Who Spoke the Law
by James Brush
Old folks will tell you there was a time when there was no poetry. Not around here anyway. Maybe back east or some place where time was more available, but breaking this land took all a man had and didn’t leave anything for him at the end. Certainly, no time for pretty words.
Some will even tell you that there was laws against it, but I don’t hold with that story. Still, I had this idea for a poem, back in ’08 or so and I didn’t want to run afoul the sheriff so I figured I needed to have a looksee to find out if there was any laws about poetry one way or the other.
I won’t tell you all my adventures because there were too many and most of them weren’t really worth the telling, but I saw a fair bit of Dallas and Houston and even El Paso on one occasion I’d just as soon forget.
It was in Austin, down in the fluorescent-lit subcommittee caverns beneath the capitol building, where I found my answers. I’d been walking around admiring all that pink granite and the grounds with all the fat squirrels and pigeons and lobbyists and all when I met an old guy mopping the floors after all the senators had left. He’s the one who told me these poems I’m about to share.
He said he found them. Now, I don’t usually go in for poems people say they found, but these two I’m about to relate are the closest I ever come to finding any kind of answer. I guess you could say they were found twice.
He told me, the Texas State Legislature said, “Let There Be Poetry.”
He told me it was all written down in a big old leather-bound book like the ones you might of seen witches reading their spells from in the movies. It was called Texas Administrative Code,
and if you turned those musty old pages over to
Title 19, Part II, Subchapter C §110.31. English Language Arts and Reading, English I (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2009-2010. (b) Knowledge and skills. (3) Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/
you’d find it.
He closed his eyes and started reciting in a low whisper. He said it was
about the structure
& elements of poetry,
provide evidence from text
to support their understanding.
students are expected to analyze
He stopped saying his poem, and I stood there taking it all in for a long time. I could hear footsteps echoing through those marble corridors like the sound of generations of people coming up from their final resting places just to hear what this janitor was saying, but those footsteps were just regular folks going about their evening, leaving work, unaware that there was some poetry right there in the middle of all that law.
I told him it sounded like that about covered reading poems, but what about writing them. He nodded and told me all those powerful senators and legislators thought of that too and so he shared another one he found, but it was under some different subsections and letters and what have you.
This one was shorter, kind of like one of those Japanese poems that never got a title and tells you a lot without using very many words so you have a lot of things to think about and maybe don’t know exactly what the writer meant.
write a poem
using a variety of
and a variety
of poetic forms
He let it sink in a moment or two and smiled and kind of leaned on his mop a little and told me he might of left some parts out, some commas and conjunctions and parentheticals and whatnot.
I don’t know. And I don’t know if those were any good or not either, but it sounded something like what I might be looking for.
The next morning, I headed back toward home and didn’t stop until I got there.
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James Brush (blog) is a writer and teacher living in Austin, Texas with his wife, cat and two greyhounds. He teaches English in a juvenile correctional facility, and was once a James Michener Fellow at the Texas Center for Writers. He published his first novel, A Place Without a Postcard, in 2003. His poems have been published by Thirteen Myna Birds, ouroboros review, Bolts of Silk, Postal Poetry and a handful of stones. His essays have been published in The Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing and Good Gosh Almighty!