Sent to me by a Smiling Judge


By James Kavanaugh © 1979

(From his collection, Walk Easy on the Earth)

The unsmiling judge with wet, flapping jowls,
Dismissing the tears of husbands and wives,
Spitting out consonants, rolling his vowels,
Tearing out hearts and carving up lives,
Slicing the children apart at their bowels,
Believing that justice latterly thrives—
Wiser than Solomon or blinking old owls—
As long as his echoing edict survives.

The unsmiling judge with stern eyes of stone,
Convinced that his honor will salvage our race,
Rages at crime from his emperor’s throne,
With history’s arrogance etched on his face,
Applauding his parents and disciplined home
Where all of the offspring emerged full of grace:
“For that which is reaped is only what’s sown,”
Then he nods to his clerk to begin the next case.

The unsmiling judge can relax a bit now
While lawyers bow humbly like prep school boys,
A touch of a grin unfurls his brow,
Capriciously gone at the hint of a noise.
He lowers his gavel and narrows his eyes,
No Shah or Napoleon sat more entrenched,
Political puppet whose whims govern lives,
Who paid enough ransom to sit on the bench.

The unsmiling judge who decides in our stead
That petulance lives and justice is dead.
I’d rather be judged by the least of our race,
Than the unsmiling judge with the arrogant face.

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0 responses to “Sent to me by a Smiling Judge”

  1. Wow. Breathtaking. Is this from a book of poetry? I have some doors of chambers I would love to slip it under. But I wonder if I will learn even more about judging from the conscientious if I read more of the book. Thanks, Mark

  2. The difference between a good judge and a bad judge is what they consider to be the most important thing in their courtroom.

    Bad judge: Who’s in charge here?

    Good judge: What’s the right thing to do?

  3. I fixed the formatting.

    Anna, there’s a link to the book of poetry, which is out of print, above the poem. It’s great stuff — much of it wryly cynical (reminiscent of the music of Loudoun Wainwright, Jr.) — but mostly not about the justice system.

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