Steve Almond’s Bad Poetry Corner #14: Juice


(Writing wretched verse so you don’t have to since 1995)


Today the jury voted to “acquit”
though the way the word leapt forth
was the way a Southern gentleman cedes
a game in frustration

Families on both sides hued and heaved
and a woman sobbed like Rachel
All through the clenched tropes of justice —
she the sister of the disappeared

While outside, and beyond, black folks
cheered for the man who the po-leese framed
who ran himself lame and beat his woman
a rusher withstood the rush to judgment

And white folks, who’d traded him like a football
card, and hired him to hurdle airport props
muttered, “Justice ain’t cheap,” and
pretended not to be scared

And Juice, Juice moved his mouth
like a man biting off the stubborn
end of a potato chip bag:
a contortion leaking smile

He too was up, and facing the jury
with a star-chiseled face, neither
black nor white, colored like the
finest leather in a tannery shack

He thought not of the crime.
That was a distant and blurry truth,
committed and dried up and blown away.
A kernel popped by the hot air of mouths

No, Juice thought of the men who had
rescued his name, who had come to him —
like the father long ago drawn away —
with smiles resplendent and soft hands:

“I was sustained by them, as I sustained
she and hers, I who began with nothing
but these arms and legs, who churned
into beatings other men only dream of.”

Then the judge ordered the stage cleared
of bailiffs and rubberneckers, of jurors
clutching million-dollar notebooks and
grieving kin dimming death with microphones

Juice left too, checked out of jail
and swung back onto that old eye-battered Bronco
giddyuping toward home, past an incarnadine
sunset, becoming gold again, returning

Not like Othello as so many would have it
nor MacBeth, scrubbing blood from a
tattooed soul, but like Lear, mad and
lyrical, to reclaim children and land

lost long ago to we who drank the Juice
half empty of good, half full of evil
the pulp pounded to rind, bent like
the bones of unborn doubt

Wow. I’m really sorry that took so long! But, you know, there was so little commentary on the O.J. Simpson trial. It was one of those neglected cultural events that virtually pleads for the gimlet eye of the Bad Poet. Who else is going make the vital linguistic connections?

Like a lot of people, I remember where I was when I heard the verdict. I was in the lounge of a southern college, the lone white person amid a dozen or so African-American students. They didn’t cheer, like their team had won, like they showed on the news. They were Christian enough, I guess, to recognize that the dead were still dead.

The only reaction that struck me as at all sensible belonged to Ice T. I’ll have to paraphrase, sadly, as I had this quote taped to my wall for years. But then we moved and it got filed away amid my nostalgic garbage. Anyway, here’s roughly what he had to say:

I made my assessment of him based on being a criminal. You don’t act like that when your wife just got stabbed up. You’re crying. You’re screaming. You don’t get in your SUV with a mask and your passport and $10,000. Now Johnny Cochran, he’s the one who got O.J. off. That brother got down. He knew if you throw enough white stuff in their face, those black jurors are gonna go the other way, because they’ve been fucked over for long enough. Now that he’s been acquitted, O.J. should put out a book titled, “Fuck You America, I Did It.” That would start a race riot. But he won’t do it. He’s a punk.

There was absolutely no reason to write the Bad Poem above, which is devoid of insight, or mercy, and settles instead for the hollow cant of smug liberalism. Plus the language. The “old, eye-battered Bronco/giddyuping toward home, past an incarnadine/sunset, becoming gold again, returning…” Lord.

But Punditry is an insatiable vice these days. We all want to hear how profound we are. We all want our hearts and brains on display. And none of us – least of all us Bad Poets – have the sense to recognize our causes for embarrassment. We should admit how much we hate the truth. We should start a riot. But we won’t do it. We’re punks.

And what of Jim Madson, of Baron Park, MO? He’s not a punk. He’s a rocker. I know this only because he’s so generously donated. I think it’s about O.J.

Sweet Memory

There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad.
Take a long holiday
Let your children play.
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah.

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Steve Almond's most recent book, Against Football, was a New York Times bestseller for at least three seconds. More from this author →