Monthly Archives: December 2020

Proof of Life

Based on the late William Prochnau’s Vanity Fair exposé about the Kidnap and Random (K&R) industry, Proof of Life is a love story / adventure starring Russell Crowe and David Caruso (as the rescue jocks) opposite Meg Ryan and David Morse (the expats whose marriage will be tested in this adventure).

David Morse plays Peter Bowman, an engineer kidnapped in the Andes by a guerrilla band that has been navigating the slippery slope from Marxist revolutionary army to narco-guerrilla banditry, and Russell Crowe plays the K&R specialist his wife turns to for help, to bring him back. This poem, based on the 38th Psalm, is in Peter’s voice, pleading with one of the younger guerrillas among his captors for some kind of help in attempting his escape.

Child, you are too quick to heap me with mistrust
and blame me for your loneliness in anger.
Easy enough for you to lash out – but look,
I am at your mercy, exhausted, in chains.
My feet are in tatters, my shoes are loose rags,
you would leave me to starve and freeze in the damp.
My only offense was to offer to share
a hope that is too heavy to bear alone.
My sores are festering because I begged you
to abandon this rough life and set me free.
My hopes seem twisted in your eyes, too selfish.
But this is no way for you to live – you’re sad.
What they are doing to you turns my stomach,
it is they who are using you to hurt me.
I admit, I am growing numb. I feel crushed.
When I roar, you hear my heart tear, convulsing.
Poor child, you could grant all that I would die for,
and you are not deaf and blind to my sorrows.
My heart has turned on me, my strength forsakes me,
the light of my eyes, my wife, is far from me.
Here friendship is useless – you write off my plight
and my family could not be farther from me.
These people lay snares and torment me daily.
You’ve seen how they lie, how they disrespect you.
But I tune all this out, alone in my thoughts;
if I didn’t, I would never hold my tongue.
In acting as though this is nothing to me
I survive, with no rebuke ready to go.
For in my wife’s patience I trust to have hope.
She will find a way to see me through this hell.
Often I straightened in agony, lest they
jeer at me when my foot slipped in the mountains.
I know how my weakness amuses these men,
and my constant pain is plain for all to see.
I tell you, I did not betray this country,
you heap on me another man’s offenses.
I came to offer help, and out of nowhere,
this unprovoked attack brought me to my knees.
Now those who only pay back good with evil
penalize me for pursuing good – you see?
But here I am forsaken by your people.
I struggle to hold my wife’s picture to heart.
May she find a way to get me out of here;
her love sustains all that remains of my hopes.

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Filed under Poetry, Proof of Life

True Grit

The Cohen Brothers’ 2010 adaptation of True Grit has got to be one of my three favorite Westerns, together with James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and, of course, Tombstone. Not only does it have a bona fide appaloosa horse in it (you can’t say that about either Appaloosa, starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris, or The Appaloosa, starring Marlon Brando!), it has all the wit and sparkle audiences have come to expect from a Cohen Brothers movie, and an all-star cast (and introducing Hailee Steinfeld with a spitfire performance as Mattie).

This fan poem, based on the 37th Psalm, is in the voice of Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger pursuing the outlaw who killed Mattie’s father into Oklahoma territory, as he tries to dissuade Mattie from following the unreliable Rooster Cogburn any further into danger, after they have shared the trail just long enough to start to warm up to each other. Unfortunately, this Psalm is a bit long-winded and repetitive, so it doesn’t exactly fit the laconic LaBoeuf, but really, who can compete with a script like this one?

Do not get stirred up by this villain’s success.
It is no use envying those who do wrong.
For in the end, they, too, will go to feed worms
and their crimes will wither like grass on their graves.
Trust in the ways of God and keep up your end.
Look after your poor family and have faith.
Take pleasure in the things childhood is meant for,
now is the time to steal a kiss – or a smile.
Trust in the law and the courts to get your man,
and sooner or later justice will prevail,
someday your father’s murderer will be hung.
Be sensible and leave this job to others.
Do not throw your life away seeking revenge,
chasing a man whose luck has yet to run out.
Let go of this stubborn vendetta – go home.
Do not abandon your next of kin like this.
For a fugitive cannot run far enough,
but your father raised you well – tend his estate.
Before you know it, luck will fail his killer.
You can hunt all you like – the trail is gone cold.
But it is for widows and children like you
to inherit in peace and prosper again.
The wicked will always cheat and kill and steal,
but all the while they grind their teeth out of fear.
The lawman pities the criminal and laughs,
for he can see which way the wind is blowing.
Though he draws his pistol and unsheathes his knife
and spurs his horse to outrun his desperate fate,
though he cuts down the poor, the trusting, the weak,
and would slaughter any who moved to stop him,
his reckless killings will be his undoing,
his horse will never carry him far enough.
Better the little you have, by your own rights,
than the wasteful takings of crime and revenge.
By the gibbet or by foul play, he’ll fall out,
and either way, you’ll have your cares back at home.
Give up the chase – let your mother embrace you,
for you are the only estate she has left.
There is no shame in surviving evil times
and moving on, to mind the next year’s harvest.
For an outlaw’s luck runs short no matter what,
his own kind may well kill him before he’s caught.
The gang he’s running with will rob him themselves,
for nothing comes free among killers and thieves.
Be glad you have a family to go back to
and rest assured there’s no safe place he can hide.
You have done all you could to uphold the law
with firmness and resolve, acting in good cheer.
Though the time has come to abandon the chase,
it does you credit, to have come so far.
I remember when I was a boy, and now,
in all my years I have never seen your like;
I know that you will prosper in all you do,
for being who you are – fair-minded, stalwart,
and in all things very brave. I shake your hand.
Turn aside from this futile search while you can,
look after your mother, and keep your chin up.
For the law may be slow to take its prisoners,
but it will not forsake your cause in the end.
A child like you lives under its protection,
while the likes of him are cut off, in the wild.
Your place is with the just – you will inherit
all the cares that were your father’s and grow strong.
You may be wise beyond your years already,
but real maturity means circumspection.
Your father taught you boldness and conviction –
his teachings have been your prop against despair.
A criminal always loathes an upright man,
goes looking for an excuse to bring him down.
But should he fall, the just is not forsaken,
his ways and his works stand tall when he is judged.
Hope for the best and try to keep your hands clean,
and you will soon be able to fill his shoes;
in due course, this criminal will meet his fate.
You have seen an arrogant, ruthless outlaw
taking root like a flourishing garden weed.
But already he is on the run, hunted,
as likely dead as anywhere else – long gone.
Watch over your next of kin, trust in the law,
and remember, you have a future to live.
The man you pursued this far will not last long,
his habits will lead him to an early end.
The restitution for your loss is given,
in the balance you and yours will have your day.
And by grace, if nothing else, you will be freed
of this unlikely burden for a daughter,
and you will take your place – your fears put to rest.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Corruption, Directing, Roll Credits

Ben Wade

I have to confess, over the course of the first few months of this creative writing exercise I’ve given myself (adapting the Book of Psalms to fan poetry), I’ve been really itching to give James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma a go.

This is one of my favorite movies, with two of my favorite actors going toe to toe, and I even found out the name of the handsome black horse Russell rides in this movie! That’s Ribbon. Ribbon’s my favorite, so far, out of all the horses Russell has ridden in the movies. (Although I do think it’s super cool that Rusty and George, who both turned heads in Gladiator, made starring appearances in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, too!)

Based on the 36th Psalm, this one is naturally in the voice of Ben Wade.

I hear the voice of crime speak to the wicked
as it speaks to me with the weight of my heart:
“There is no fear of God or holy justice
upon the world that stands before my eyes.”
The sparkle in the eyes of crime seduced me
by feeding off my sin – hatred is a fuel.
I learned the trade of mischief and deception,
and laid aside all other trades and virtues.
Getaways and murders can be planned a-bed,
but the leader of a gang must cut a stance,
only evil itself escapes his contempt.
I can be awed by the heavens – this kindness
is a kind of faithfulness to that night sky.
God’s justice lights like sunshine on bare mountains,
his judgment opens like a naked defile,
that man and beast escape by singular grace.
The farthest hawk pays tribute to this kindness,
and I but shelter in his soaring shadow.
I take my fill from the fare of providence,
and from wild streams and passing delights drink up.
For I will not spurn to take the best from life.
I can take pleasure in acts of kindness, too.
Draw down your mercy on those who know your law,
and save your justice for the gates of hell.
Let no man’s pride in this life overtake mine,
nor the hand of the wicked stay my hand.
There lie the murderers I led to this death.
They fell where they stood – they did not strike in time.

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Filed under 3:10 to Yuma, Acting, Corruption, Dream Ensemble, Gladiator, Poetry, Robin Hood

Robin Hood

In Ridley Scott’s 2010 take on the Robin Hood legend, a bit of a history lesson sneaks in the back door with the signing of a precursor to the Magna Carta by King John (played with venomous dash and charm by Oscar Isaac), amply urged on by William Hurt’s William Marshall and Russell Crowe’s Robin Longstride, together with the assembled and much-put-upon nobility of England.

This might feel far-fetched to audiences who only know of one Magna Carta, the one signed by King John’s son and heir many years after the action of the film takes place. But in fact, several precursor documents with the same intent as the Magna Carta were signed by King John under duress at several junctures much like the one dramatized in the film. He reneged on every agreement, but the nobles persevered until they had enough leverage to make the agreement binding on their sovereign.

This poem, based on the 35th Psalm, is in William Marshall’s voice addressed to King John at one of these junctures, when King John’s tax collectors have run amok on behalf of their French overlords (he hired French mercenaries to collect the exorbitant tax from nobles who claimed they could not pay). England faces invasion, and without the nobles’ support, King John cannot hope to repel the French fleet converging on Dover cliffs.

Take up arms, my Lord, against these invaders,
fight those who fight against England and your crown.
Unsheath the sword and nock the arrow – take aim
against these marauders, these wolves in the fold.
Let those who betrayed you be shamed and disgraced,
who used your tax as cover to raid the north.
Let them beat a retreat as they come ashore,
who plot the pillage of English kine and corn.
Let them scatter like chaff before the west wind,
with the longbow harrying their every step.
May they lose their footing in darkness and drown,
with the longbow raining murder over all.
For unprovoked they made designs on your crown,
unprovoked, they set out to sack your estate.
Let us spring our own trap – catch them unawares,
and turn the kernel of their plans against them.
They schemed to divide us – together, we win.
And I celebrate this day to see my King
moved to acknowledge his duties to the crown.
I feel this sea change for England in my bones.
“Majesty, who can supplant you? As our King,
only you can secure the weak against greed
and protect your subjects from their despoilers.”
Deep in your counsel, false witnesses snared you,
painting your nobles as rebels, usurpers.
This is how Geoffry repays your constant trust –
nursed at the same breast, he seeks your very life.
And I, when your kingdom ailed, went in hiding
and roused your people to remember their rights.
May my service to England furnish you well.
As for a friend, I mourned your missteps, waiting
for a chance to set you back on a straight path,
wandering bent and hooded, like a pilgrim.
Yet when your people went in mourning, they struck,
in your name they ravaged the north of England,
like mercenaries they robbed us for the tax.
They tore open our eyes to the awful truth.
With contempt they remarked in their own language
what easy prey we were to the wolves in sheep’s clothes.
Majesty, how long will this go on? We sue
because it is your duty to protect us,
and ours to rise, until lambs become lions.
I shall acclaim you before this gathering,
this great assembly looks to you to lead us.
Will you suffer our enemies to sack us,
will you stand by while the French rob us and leer?
For this is an army of invasion – peace
is an empty pledge, theirs were words of deceit.
Already they throw back their heads in laughter.
They crow, “Hurrah! All England’s for the taking!”
You, my Lord, have seen this – do not stand idle.
Majesty, do not banish me from your court,
deprive me of my duty to my country.
Judge my words by their justice, as England’s King
and let those invaders not gloat over all.
Do not allow our weakness to swell their hearts,
as they congratulate themselves for our faults.
Let them not say to their masters, “We have won.”
Let the French flee with their tails between their legs;
they rejoiced prematurely to do us harm.
Let us humiliate France for her envy,
that France sought to conquer fair England today.
Hear how your people shout and cheer and praise you,
who desire only justice from their King.
And may they always remember this fine day
by the works of their monarch, whose laws are just,
a King who safeguards his people’s well-being,
so their love will follow you into battle,
and their songs will be your ornament of praise.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Poetry, Robin Hood

Invictus

With 2021 being my first year as a member of the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby club, it’s only fitting that the next poem in this series is inspired by Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s movie about the long-reviled Springboks of South Africa and their climb, against impossible odds, to a World Cup title (contested fiercely by New Zealand’s indomitable Warriors).

This poem, based on the 34th Psalm, is in Mandela’s voice (played by Morgan Freeman in the film), addressing his own government, as to why he wishes not to see the Springboks dissolved or stripped of their colors and their hated name, which had so long been a byword of the apartheid security forces’ closed and brutally chauvinist culture.

For decades, freedom fighters in South Africa would cheer for any team that scored against their own country’s Springboks. Mandela miraculously turned that dynamic around, in one small but very astute gesture among many, many bridge-building endeavors he undertook during his presidency. His goal was to prevent white flight (i.e., capital flight), and to prevent South Africa from carrying forward the bitterness that characterized apartheid and the seemingly interminable struggle to achieve one-person-one-vote democracy, last of all African countries.

The title of the film, of course, was inspired by another poem, one which Mandela shares with the Springboks captain Francois Pienaar (played by Matt Damon) in the film. You can hear Morgan Freeman read William Henley’s Invictus here.

Let us honor our countrymen at all times,
greeting them always with praise and our respect.
In our shared destiny lies hope and glory.
Let the poorest among us hear and rejoice.
Join in their victory chant and celebrate,
let us sing out our anthem for one and all.
I sought your trust and theirs, and you answered me,
and from the bowels of their prisons, I walked free.
They looked on us today and their faces beamed,
their thoughts for the future were no longer dark.
When we turn to ourselves, in our darkest straits,
and stand firm for our beliefs, courage saves us.
The world embraces justice – but remember,
fear of vengeance dogs our reputation, too.
Taste this victory and see what we have won,
the right to treat the vanquished with compassion.
Fear injustice in yourselves, and treat them well,
for their disdain will change, if we allow it.
The leopard is wretched, consumed by hunger,
but man has the means to conquer appetite.
Come and listen to me, you who raised me up,
and I will teach you to know your enemy.
As greatly as you desired your freedom,
as long as you waited to see our flag raised,
with so much of your soul, abhor injustice
and let no more viciousness stain this nation.
Resist the urge to put them down – show fairness,
to uphold the peace we won at such a price.
For the just man is whole before the mirror
of posterity, his children see his acts.
He stands firm in the face of evildoers,
and gives their ways no purchase over his soul.
Cry out when you are injured and he hears you,
quickly he moves to help or to make amends.
The just man gives his hand to the exhausted,
he finds the words to heal those crushed in spirit.
No one escapes the scourge of self-righteous men,
but where temperance stands firm, peace is secure.
We felt the weight of oppression in our bones,
and if we visit the same on them, we fail.
Evil can consume the wicked from within,
but it paints the world as guilty in their eyes.
With our compassion we ransom our neighbors,
that we may bear no guilt in our children’s eyes.

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Filed under Acting, Poetry