“District Court as Community Theater” by Al Maginnes

Until you understand each role was written
	long before you hit your first mark,
it’s easy to smirk at the ill-hanging curtain

of the judge’s robe, the “Oyez, oyez,” invoking us
	to draw forth and be heard. But when

the finitude of this passion play finally settles
	its ancient weight on your frame,
your hand will linger over the grain

of the Bible’s cover, and your eyes will study
	a set not tacked together in shop class:

scuffed wainscoting, dark oil portraits
	of dignitaries smeared into anonymity,
the slow heavy breathing of the man beside you,

half-asleep, waiting, like you, to be called.
	If you believe truth, however thin and shape-shifting,

exists here, you might believe yourself able
	to inhabit any of these roles: grim prosecutor,
insolent defendant, bailiff blinking and stifling a yawn.

You want to deliver your lines with a sense of history’s irony,
	your questions and vows punctuated by

a bit of the doubt that salts any human enterprise.
	Only a fool would claim there is no difference
in casting when some slip home to warm meals

and the private rest of their beds while others
	chew the cold bologna the country serves on Tuesdays

and twitch in the uneasy sleep of prey.
	Nine hundred dollars or ninety days, sighs the man
beside you, waking as the judge enters and you stand,

a single improvisation before everyone sits, settles
	into rehearsed business, into roles no one owns.

Al Maginnes has published four full length poetry collections and four chapbooks. In 2008, his collection Ghost Alphabet won the White Pine Prize and was published by White Pine Press. In 2010, he published two chapbooks, Between States (Main Street Rag Press) and Greatest Hits 1987-2010 (Pudding House Publications). He has recent or forthcoming work in Southern Review, Solo, Scythe, Georgia Review, Cloudbank, Salamander and others. He lives in Raleigh, NC, and teaches at Wake Technical Community College.

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