The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


John Fitzgerald

The Verdict


The jury in, Judge Grind gavels the bench and calls for order.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?
The foreman, Lester Moore, gets to his feet.
“We have, Your Honor.”
Lester runs the Coyote Foundation in Tacoma.
They run 23 miles-per-hour faster than roadrunners.
One doesn’t usually fret about coyotes as one does a wolf
because coyotes are more doglike, and seem less of a threat.

Coyotes are much more ubiquitous, so come into the city.
The English derives from the Aztec word for “trickster,”
and Joe Smith sees himself that way.
He thinks the problem with humans is they are everywhere.
Seven billion is way too many.
It’s like reaching a number that refuses to be counted—
completely irrational.
An insult to our otherwise peaceful existence.

He’ll bring your world into harmony with his,
and it’ll only hurt a moment.
The vast unknown will seem so much smaller after.
Oh, he’s playing with more notes than he can hear.
He’d listen to you if he weren’t thinking other things,
and will change his mind immediately if he’s ever proven wrong.
No one’s going to fill his space for lack of occupation.
Once he rubs his mind on yours, that stain will never come off.

He bears a meanness descended from generosity.
Thinks things seem permanent, but they’re not.
They’re constantly changing. Stability is an illusion.
The typical human doesn’t live long enough to perceive
the timescale it should be made aware of all its life.
He cannot be held responsible for the content of his thoughts.
Yes, Lester Moore more or less loves coyotes.
“We find the defendant not guilty, Your Honor.”

God is a light every speck and fire in the universe,
every existence, every illusion, every motion notices.
Constant darkness dwells around it, waiting.
No light can last forever,
It always surrenders its space to the night.
Light is the grace between letters and lines,
caster of shadows, opener of eyes.
Light lets you see where it hurts.

Animals live by instinct,
know how to be what they are like a stone.
That which creates the universe sings to them.
Moves about together with them in the moment,
uttering nothing, a dance to life.
Man is language. He translates, corrupts.
When instinct observes identity,
the voice of God becomes my own.

I am, I say. Mean I will not be.
I must have been once, in silence.
When thinking gets twisted, what’s left is thought.
Will corrupts the noise with devices.
Penetrates memory like an x-ray.
While I listen for meat to speak,
light unfolds and passes by,
lets me give it any name I want.

Voices grow weary just pushing away.
What do I say to set them free,
to leave them no room to believe in.
Don’t ask me what I think anymore, after eight.
I’ll be into myself and won’t have time.

I screw myself this way—you see that, don’t you?
Shivers are all that matter to the voices.
They can’t just talk to themselves, you know.



JOHN FITZGERALD is an award-winning poet, editor, and federal appeals attorney for the disabled. His most recent books are Favorite Bedtime Stories and The Mind, both from Salmon Poetry. He’s been widely published in journals and anthologies. He was editor of the Law Review.



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