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TCL > July 2005 Issue > Inner Voices: Poetry and Law

July 2005       Vol. 34, No. 7       Page  99
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Inner Voices: Poetry and Law
by Ann Miller

The Colorado Lawyer (“TCL”) publishes poetry written by Colorado attorneys on a space-available basis. The TCL Poetry Committee chooses poems for publication based on the following criteria: poems must be about the life of the law, including experiences that impact a lawyer’s sense of justice; and reflect his or her personal impressions of the practice of law. Readers interested in submitting poetry may contact Arlene Abady, Managing Editor, at


Marshall's Scrivener


Sometimes it is a slight thing,
the droop of an eyelid, a shoe
tied from left to right, a man’s way
of licking his finger before he turns
                                  a page,

that gives us insight into
a person’s being, his raison d’être.
And, although it is a brief thing,
this glancing illumination,
                                it is enough
for us to form a life-long affinity,
or aversion,
for the person we have seen into.

This holds true for the people
we imagine, as well as those
                             we know.
For what is real, is discerned
more readily
in the rubric of fable.

Consequently, I tell you this is true:
that John Marshall’s scrivener was
            an acrimonious man.
He was wizened and spare and gray
and nothing pleased him.
If the day was fine, it but
                      portended rain.

If his ale was cheap, it was
                  exceedingly bitter.
If his wife fried beef, he would have
                   preferred fritters.

The senators were avaricious.
His master, prideful.
And the president, well,
he’d better not tell you
what he thought of
 the president. . . .

Let me persuade you that his character
                                                  was ineluctable.

Imagine him sitting at his writing table
hard-by the window.
It is very difficult.
In the summer, the heat poaches him.
His clothes steam with sweat and he is constantly
wiping small beads of moisture from his forehead.
In the winter, the wind rattles through the panes
and even the patched shawl that he is wearing
will not keep his bones from aching.
But the light
                                                   is best here.

On a bright day, it streams across the vellum,
exposing every flaw, every imperfection
of his hand and, here is the key to his character,
if he makes one mistake,
if one stroke is too narrow, or too wide,
if one drop of ink, or sweat, blots the sheet,
he will throw it all away
                                              and begin again.

Imagine him then, writing
his little finger and the flesh of his hand
feeling the smooth, cream colored vellum,
the ink sinking into the page, becoming

And then imagine him leaving his post
at the end of the day, stooped and bleary-eyed
from scribing:
“The very essence of civil liberty certainly
consists in the right of every individual to claim
the protection of the laws,” over and
over again.
Imagine him walking out into the street
with this precise and perfect phrase still
ringing in his ears,
only to be short-changed by the news vendor,
only to read of the latest law proposed
to enrich a legislator,
only to be spattered with mud from the passing coach.
He was bound to be disappointed.



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